Drunk driving lawyers

Hollywood loves a controversy, but they couldn’t have expected the movie Two Weeks Notice to stir one up. When the innocuous (some might say vacuous) film opened in London, one woman did show up in protest.

It wasn’t the predictable plot she took issue with or the syrup-y pairing of Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock in yet another romantic comedy. No, it was the film’s title that had her knickers in a knot.

She came brandishing a large paper cut-out of an apostrophe on a stick, which she held up to the marquee to correct the filmmakers’ oversight: Two Weeks’ Notice, it should have been.

This plucky punctuation picketer must be clucking her tongue at the release of Law Abiding Citizen.

Whither the humble hyphen? she might ask.

There is definitely an anti-hyphen movement out there. An empty space is now taking its place in phrases like “small animal vet” (why snub the doctor for being short?) , “worst paid job” (vs. the worst volunteer job) and “clock punching employees” (that’s one nasty clock).

That’s a real shame because the multi-tasking hyphen is such a useful little mark. One of its most important functions is to link words in a way that eliminates this type of ambiguity.

For example, a high-end table is different than a high end table. A hard-working man isn’t necessarily a hard working man. And “Dog biting man” may not be a noteworthy headline, but “Dog-biting man” is.

Consider this bus ad I spotted a few years ago: “Drunk driving lawyers. Call…” Or those for “quit smoking aids.” Besides being laughably bad constructions, these are also confusing phrases that force the reader to do a double take. Amazing how one extra keystroke can provide so much clarity.

By the way, that apostrophe advocate was none other than Lynne Truss. She went on to write the best-seller “Eats, Shoots & Leaves,” one of the most entertaining books on grammar I’ve read.

And we still need her — and her punctuation protests.

[UPDATE Nov. 12] There’s an “apostrophist” on the loose! This story is from August, but it was brought to my attention by this week’s issue of Maclean’s. Apparently, one Stefan Gatward, resident of “St Johns Close,” has taken a page out of Lynne Truss’s book, according to the Telegraph Daily Mail.


About this entry