What the Death of the Apostrophe Protection Society Means for Grammarians

Snow toy's what?
Snow toy's what?
Alan Levine, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In November 2019, retired journalist John Richards announced that he was disbanding the Apostrophe Protection Society, a primarily internet-based organization he founded in 2001 as a resource for writers. Richards’s first reason for the shutdown was simply that, at 96 years old, he wanted to cut back on his commitments—but it was his second reason that alarmed meticulous editors and self-proclaimed grammarians around the world.

“Fewer organizations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English language,” Richards wrote on the site. “The ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!”

The announcement prompted a small avalanche of articles with headlines like “Have We Murdered the Apostrophe?” (from the BBC) and “Is There a Question Mark Over the Apostrophe’s Future?” (from The New European), many of which pondered different angles of the same sad question: Is the apostrophe actually necessary?

To oversimplify a very complex, centuries-long discussion, the answer is an unsatisfying “It depends.” If you ask someone who thinks written language should be a reflection of spoken language, they might say no—after all, we don’t pronounce apostrophes. “The cat’s meow” sounds exactly like “The cats meow.” And, while we don’t usually say “Period” at the end of our sentences, periods and other punctuation marks are translated through speech; upward inflection indicates a question mark, a brief pause implies a comma, and so on.

Other people, however, argue that even if apostrophes don’t reveal themselves aloud, they’re still important in writing. As Colin Matthews, head of the English department at Churchfields Primary School in Beckenham, England, told the BBC, apostrophes are about “clarity in meaning.”

On one hand, Matthews is entirely correct in suggesting that apostrophes make a sentence clearer. On the other hand, the English language doesn’t exactly have a reputation for prioritizing clarity—and if we can use context clues to differentiate between, say, bat as an animal and bat as a weapon, then it stands to reason that we may not need a written apostrophe to understand that “The bats wing is broken” refers to the wing of the bat (which is, of course, of the animal variety).

Furthermore, Richards’s suggestion that this apostrophe catastrophe is a modern development isn’t totally accurate. As Merriam-Webster points out, we’ve been debating if and how apostrophes should be used for centuries; even William Shakespeare was inconsistent about it.

That said, it’s definitely possible that the ever-expanding digital landscape has unintentionally encouraged a general lack of care for apostrophes—you can’t use them in social media hashtags, for instance, and the fast-paced, often bite-sized nature of online content means that there are many more opportunities for mistakes, and much less time committed to preventing them. But, as many a linguist will tell you, that’s just how language works; it changes to better fit how we use it.

"[The evolution of language is] nothing that we can try to stop, it’s inevitable," New York University linguistics professor Laurel Mackenzie told the BBC.

Since this evolution often happens slowly, you can rest easy knowing that the death of the Apostrophe Protection Society definitely doesn’t mean the death of the apostrophe itself; and, if your tattoo artist forgets to include one in your latest tattoo, you should probably ask them to somehow squeeze it in.

[h/t BBC]

10 Reusable Gifts for Your Eco-Friendliest Friend

Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
DecorChic/Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

By this point, your eco-friendly pal probably has a reusable water bottle that accompanies them everywhere and some sturdy grocery totes that keep their plastic-bag count below par. Here are 10 other sustainable gift ideas that’ll help them in their conservation efforts.

1. Reusable Produce Bags; $13

No more staticky plastic bags.Naturally Sensible/Amazon

The complimentary plastic produce bags in grocery stores aren’t great, but neither is having all your spherical fruits and vegetables roll pell-mell down the checkout conveyor belt. Enter the perfect alternative: mesh bags that are nylon, lightweight, and even machine-washable.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Animal Tea Infusers; $16

Nothing like afternoon tea with your tiny animal friends.DecorChic/Amazon

Saying goodbye to disposable tea bags calls for a quality tea diffuser, and there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be shaped like an adorable animal. This “ParTEA Pack” includes a hippo, platypus, otter, cat, and owl, which can all hang over the edge of a glass or mug. (In other words, you won’t have to fish them out with your fingers or dirty a spoon when your loose leaf is done steeping.)

Buy it: Amazon

3. Rocketbook Smart Notebook; $25

Typing your notes on a tablet or laptop might save trees, but it doesn’t quite capture the feeling of writing on paper with a regular pen. The Rocketbook, on the other hand, does. After you’re finished filling a page with sketches, musings, or whatever else, you scan it into the Rocketbook app with your smartphone, wipe it clean with the microfiber cloth, and start again. This one also comes with a compatible pen, but any PILOT FriXion pens will do.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Food Huggers; $13

"I'm a hugger!"Food Huggers/Amazon

It’s hard to compete with the convenience of plastic wrap or tin foil when it comes to covering the exposed end of a piece of produce or an open tin can—and keeping those leftovers in food storage containers can take up valuable space in the fridge. This set of five silicone Food Huggers stretch to fit over a wide range of circular goods, from a lidless jar to half a lemon.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Swiffer Mop Pads; $15

For floors that'll shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.Turbo Microfiber/Amazon

Swiffers may be much less unwieldy than regular mops, but the disposable pads present a problem to anyone who likes to keep their trash output to a minimum. These machine-washable pads fasten to the bottom of any Swiffer WetJet, and the thick microfiber will trap dirt and dust instead of pushing it into corners. Each pad lasts for at least 100 uses, so you’d be saving your eco-friendly friend quite a bit of money, too.

Buy it: Amazon

6. SodaStream for Sparkling Water; $69

A fondness for fizzy over flat water doesn’t have to mean buying it bottled. Not only does the SodaStream let you make seltzer at home, but it’s also small enough that it won’t take up too much precious counter space. SodaStream also sells flavor drops to give your home-brewed beverage even more flair—this pack from Amazon ($25) includes mango, orange, raspberry, lemon, and lime.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Washable Lint Roller; $13

Roller dirty.iLifeTech/Amazon

There’s a good chance that anyone with a pet (or just an intense dislike for lint) has lint-rolled their way through countless sticky sheets. iLifeTech’s reusable roller boasts “the power of glue,” which doesn’t wear off even after you’ve washed it. Each one also comes with a 3-inch travel-sized version, so you can stay fuzz-free on the go.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Countertop Compost Bin; $23

Like a tiny Tin Man for your table.Epica/Amazon

Even if you keep a compost pile in your own backyard, it doesn’t make sense to dash outside every time you need to dump a food scrap. A countertop compost bin can come in handy, especially if it kills odors and blends in with your decor. This 1.3-gallon pail does both. It’s made of stainless steel—which matches just about everything—and contains an activated-charcoal filter that prevents rancid peels and juices from stinking up your kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Fabric-Softening Dryer Balls; $17

Also great for learning how to juggle without breaking anything.Smart Sheep

Nobody likes starchy, scratchy clothes, but some people might like blowing through bottles of fabric softener and boxes of dryer sheets even less. Smart Sheep is here to offer a solution: wool dryer balls. Not only do they last for more than 1000 loads, they also dry your laundry faster. And since they don’t contain any chemicals, fragrances, or synthetic materials, they’re a doubly great option for people with allergies and/or sensitive skin.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Rechargeable Batteries; $40

Say goodbye to loose batteries in your junk drawer.eneloop/Amazon

While plenty of devices are rechargeable themselves, others still require batteries to buzz, whir, and change the TV channel—so it’s good to have some rechargeable batteries on hand. In addition to AA batteries, AAA batteries, and a charger, this case from Panasonic comes with tiny canisters that function as C and D batteries when you slip the smaller batteries into them.

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

What Does ‘Cabin Fever’ Mean? Plus Other Fever Words

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

By Samantha Enslen, Quick and Dirty Tips

We come to you in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. One of the symptoms of COVID-19 is a fever, and that got us thinking about the word fever and the different phrases that use it.

After a bit of noodling around, here’s what we learned.

The Origin of the Word Fever.

The word fever comes from the classical Latin febris. It’s also related to the Latin word fovēre, meaning “to heat,” and the ancient Greek τέϕρα (pronounced tephra), meaning “ash.”

Fever originally related to heat.

The first time it was printed was in an Old English herbarium—a book describing how to use herbs as medicine. The author said that people who have a “fefer” should “wyrte wel drincan on wætere”—that is, drink lots of water brewed with plants from the wort family, like spiderwort or St. John’s wort.

The Meaning of Fever Gets Extended.

By the 1300s, we see the use of the word expand. It starts to also mean a state of nervous excitement or agitation. We see phrases like “a fever of jealousy” and “a fever of the soul.” We still use that meaning today—you’ll know that if you’ve ever had “a fever for the flavor of a Pringle.” (For those of you too young to recognize that jingle, it’s from an iconic 1980s ad for those flattened, processed potato chips known as Pringles.)

Fever also paired up with various modifiers over time. These phrases referred to an intense enthusiasm that usually burned out quickly.

For example, in the 1600s, “tulip fever” broke out in the Netherlands. These bulbs began to be imported from the Ottoman Empire, and prices for them skyrocketed.

In the 1760s, when the Seven Years’ War raged between Great Britain and France, British fanatics were said to have “war-fever.”

In 1848, the discovery of gold in California sparked a “gold fever”—a mass migration of miners into California’s goldfields. By 1855, more than 300,000 people had moved into the state.

And of course, in the 1970s, many of us had the most embarrassing fever of all—disco fever. Admit it—many of you probably wore gold lame and bell-bottoms, and danced your heart out to songs like “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees and “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer.

Those were the days.

Fever Phrases: Cabin Fever, Fever Dream, Fever Pitch

Fever has also become part of some standard phrases we use.

Cabin Fever

There’s “cabin fever,” the restlessness and irritation that comes from being cooped up too long in a small space. (Perhaps needless to say, many of us are feeling that right now.) The term appeared in the American West in the early 1900s, probably because of settlers being trapped in literal cabins for weeks on end during the heavy winters that hit states like South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming.

Fever Dreams

There are also “fever dreams.” These are the bizarre, hallucinogenic dreams that can come when you have a high fever. If you’ve ever seen the dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 movie Spellbound, you get a sense of what a fever dream might be like.

“Fever dreams” can also refer to any outlandish ideas. If a friend told you she’d quit her job, bought a horse, and decided to bring transportation via carriage back into fashion, you might say she was having a fever dream.

Fever Pitch

Finally, there’s the expression “fever pitch,” which refers to a state of intense excitement. In 2019, when the Washington Nationals were competing for their first-ever World Series trophy, you could say that “baseball fever” in Washington had reached a fever pitch. Or in 2016, when LeBron James brought the Cleveland Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals, excitement in Cleveland was definitely at a fever pitch.

Why Do You Catch a Cold, But Run a Fever?

One final topic for today. Why do you catch a cold, but run a fever?

Catching a Cold

“To catch a cold” is an idiom. It first appeared in the 16th century, and originally meant to literally become chilled by exposure to cold weather. By the late 1600s, it took on the meaning we use today: to become infected by a cold virus.

Until recently, the phrase was shorter: “to catch cold” was more common than “to catch a cold.” And there’s also a darker version of this phrase: “to catch your death of cold.” This phrase was likely a favorite of parents warning their children to dress warmly: “put on a hat if you’re going outside, or you’ll catch your death of cold!”

Running a Fever

The phrase “to run a fever” is also an idiom. It uses the word “run” in the sense meaning “to cause, or to move.” You can see a similar usage in the phrase “run amok,” meaning to move in a frenzied, out-of-control way.

In this case, one’s temperature is moving upward; thus, one “runs” a fever.

That’s our rundown on fever-related idioms. I wish everyone good health—and I am sending warm wishes that “cabin fever” isn’t hitting you too hard.

Sources

Ammer, Christine. Catch a cold, run a fever. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

Boissoneault, Lorraine. There Never Was a Real Tulip Fever. Smithsonian Magazine, September 18, 2017.

Encyclopedia Britannica, online edition. Gold fever, Seven Years’ War (subscription required, accessed April 20, 2020).

Merriam-Webster. A Retrospect of Words From 1918 (accessed April 20, 2020).

Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. Oxford University Press. Fever, cabin fever (subscription required, accessed April 20, 2020).

A version of this article was originally published on Quick and Dirty Tips as What Does ‘Cabin Fever’ Mean? Plus Other ‘Fever’ Words. Read more from Quick and Dirty Tips.

About the Author

Samantha Enslen is an award-winning writer who has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. She runs Dragonfly Editorial, an agency that provides copywriting, editing, and design for scientific, medical, technical, and corporate materials. Sam is the vice president of ACES, The Society for Editing, and is the managing editor of Tracking Changes, ACES' quarterly journal.