The Apostrophe Rule

The Apostrophe Rule is a rule I made up while advising someone on an Internet forum what to do about his wife who would always talk his ear off. I’ve been told many times how clever the rule is, so I thought I’d share it with the whole world.

The husband in question here didn’t want to shut his wife down completely, I guess because he thought gossiping was the highlight of her day, or something. Anyway I gave him this rule which is designed merely to set boundaries about who she can talk about, and it’s pretty clever. Here is the rule as the husband would dictate it to his wife:

You may not gossip about anyone you need an apostrophe to name.

If you think about it for a moment, it’s clear how and why it works, but I’ll give some examples anyway. First of all, people who are on first name basis with both spouses are acceptable, since they can be named with their actual name, no apostrophe needed. Any relative or friend of the wife would be acceptable; she could name them as “my sister”, “my mom”, “my best friend”, “my coworker”, “my dentist”, etc. However, the rule kicks in once she starts getting to “my sister’s friend”, “my coworker’s niece”, “my mom’s psychiatrist”, “Dawn’s hairdresser”, etc. Those people need apostrophes to be named, so she is not allowed to talk about them.

This rule has two benefits. It limits the number of people available for the wife to gossip about, ostensibly reducing the overall time she’ll be able to spend gossiping. Also it helps limit the gossip to be about people that the husband is less uninterested in.

As far as I know, I am the first person to come up with this rule. I’ve had a lot of people follow-up with praise for this rule whenever I post it. They will write, “Wow, that’s a really good rule.” I’ve even had women say they would respect men who instituted it. It seems that a lot of people like rule.

The Apostrophe Rule is slightly related to an observation I made about urban legends, which I’ll call the Apostrophe Theorem even though it isn’t a theorem and isn’t even always true, for that matter. It’s just cool to call things theorems. It goes like this:

Whenever someone claims a dubious, urban-legend type story really happened to someone they need an apostrophe to name, it isn’t true.

Point is, stuff you hear from the grapevine, even short grapevines, isn’t trustworthy, which is why gossip about your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate is so inane. What’s the point of listening to all that when it’s probably not even true? Some people have an instinctual filter to that causes untrustworthy information to bore us; others don’t. That’s why we need the Apostrophe Rule.


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  1. quite easy to circumvent. instead of “my sister’s friend” just say “friend of my sister.”
    “niece of my coworker.” “psychiatrist of my mom.”
    it’s awkward English, but clearly understandable.

  2. easy: If you’re thinking about circumventing the rule, you’re missing the point. This rule is about one spouse communicating boundaries to the other. It’s not a challenge to see if they can circumvent it.

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