Yesterday I posted the front cover of Widows/Widow’s/Widows’ Row (a novel which I’m bringing out soon) to my Facebook page. I had forgotten about my struggle with the apostrophe…
The reason it was a struggle wasn’t that I don’t know how to use an apostrophe. I do. (At this point the ancient laws of writing are sure to kick in. There will be at least one typo or punctuation error that I miss in this piece because I have mentioned that I am fairly confident with apostrophes.) No, in fact it was a pain to figure out what should be done with the title of Widows/Widow’s/Widows’ Row because I do know how apostrophes work.
You’re thinking, ‘This is simple. It should be Widows’ Row, because the ‘row’ belongs to the widows. Otherwise it will be a row belonging to one widow (Widow’s Row) or a group of widows out for a paddle in a canoe (Widows Row).
The problem was/is that there is no street sign, map or historical document that I could find that had the apostrophe in the ‘correct’ place. Widows/Widow’s/Widows’ Row is a real place. Here’s a picture of it:
You will find it written as Widow’s Row or Widows Row, but never Widows’ Row. So I had a choice between historical inaccuracy and inauthenticity (the ‘correct’ use of the apostrophe: Widows’ Row) or two ‘incorrect’ versions which were and are actually used. In the end I decided on what seemed like the least ‘wrong’ of these: Widows Row (because the row of houses definitely does not only belong to one woman).
I also found a blog post by Michael Rosen on the subject of apostrophes and place names. It is rather lovely and I encourage you read it if you’re interested in apostrophes.
I forgot about the apostrophe dilemma after that. I went on with writing my novel and I finished it and redrafted, and then redrafted again, and then, two years later, I pulled it out of the drawer and redrafted again, and then I redrafted it again. I’m almost finished this round of edits – it will be the last round (I am still finding mistakes by the way; another ancient law of writing: mistakes multiply by looking at them). The apostrophe was sorted though. So I thought.
Yesterday I posted the picture on Facebook and in among the ‘likes’ and encouraging comments (thank you!) a few questions began to be asked. Where’s the apostrophe, Shirl?
So I explained. But then someone else asked. I explained again. And then a few more people asked. Oh dear!
But a little part of me is sad that I’ve given in. I might keep a copy of my book without the apostrophe, just for myself 🙂