In everyday usage, apostrophe denotes the punctuation mark used to form the possessive case of nouns, to form possessive adjectives, to indicate the omission of one or more letters in a contraction, and to form plurals of such items as letters, signs, or symbols. Simple, yes? Apparently not. Incorrect use of this seemingly innocuous little jot has become rampant. For example, writers frequently confuse the contraction “it’s” with the possessive “its” — it seems that users of the apostrophe have lost sight of it’s proper use, and its so sad. Another example is when writers use the apostrophe to form the plural of a noun — a usage termed the greengrocer’s apostrophe, presumably owing to its prevalence at one time in grocery signage advertising sale prices on, for example, apple’s, banana’s, and orange’s. While the rise of edited, corporation-issued supermarket signage has rendered use of the greengrocer’s apostrophe more rare in that context than it once was, it now enjoys a wide popularity in other written materials, most noticeably in do-it-yourself advertising copy hawking everything from car’s to hot dog’s to stereo’s — a burgeoning phenomenon that has given rise to another term, apostrophitis.
Apart from this everyday denotation, apostrophe also denotes a rhetorical figure of speech in which a speaker or writer suddenly breaks off narration to direct speech elsewhere, often to exclaim or to convey heightened emotion — as, for example, when a driver conversing with a passenger suddenly breaks into an impassioned aside directed to a recalcitrant automobile, a pedestrian, or the driver of another vehicle. In its original usage, an apostrophe was directed to a person present. However, over time, the meaning has broadened to include speech directed to a person or persons either present, absent, or deceased; to a personified material object; or to an idea or other abstract quality. In poetry or narrative prose, an apostrophe often begins with the word “O”: “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?” (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, II.2); “O eloquent, just, and mighty Death!” (Sir Walter Raleigh, A Historie of the World). — Phil Sefton, ELS