The case of the missing apostrophe

Most every day I drive down the hill into downtown Mystic, cross the bridge to the Stonington side of town and see the red sign for Tim Hortons, the doughnut/coffee shop, on the right side of East Main Street.

And I think to myself (cue Louis Armstrong): What a wonderful world.

Just kidding.

What I actually think to myself is, Where's the apostrophe?

I know the business was founded by the late Tim Horton, the former National Hockey League player, so according to the rules of grammar, the sign should read "Tim Horton's."

That's one of the functions of an apostrophe in the English language: "to show the possessive forms of nouns or indefinite pronouns, as in John's book, the lions' den, everybody's business." (That little lesson comes courtesy of an old dictionary - the Thorndike-Barnhart fourth edition - I "inherited" from Stonington High School.)

Ol' Timmy's is clearly in violation. Maybe it's a function of my being a copy editor here at The Day - a so-called "caretaker of the language," as one of my college professors once put it - so this bothers me.

I began to wonder why Hortons dropped its apostrophe. I know the business originated in Canada, so is it a Canadian thing? I'm also aware they speak a lot of French up there, so are they anti-apostrophe or something? Last I knew, English was the country's predominant language.

So I did a little digging, and the first thing I noticed was I'm not the only one annoyed by Hortons' grammatical incorrectness. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Here are just a couple of examples:

• Someone named Andrea M started a petition on called "Tim Hortons Needs An Apostrophe!" Andrea says Hortons and other companies "are exactly what's wrong with today's grammar. They blatantly misuse grammar and no one cares. I, for one, am standing up for the English language."

You go, Andrea.

Unfortunately, she's well short of her goal of 100,000 signatures. There were 52 at last count. And her petition was started Jan. 24, 2006.

• Last September, in an article titled "Our National Shame. Period.", Robert Fulford, a longtime columnist for the National Post (Ontario, Canada), wrote that Canada needs a "federal Punctuation Improvement Program." So upset over the apostrophe-deprived Hortons is Fulford, he called for a new authority to "undertake a national apostrophe-recovery program, starting at Tim's."

The man is clearly on a mission.

But back to the business at hand. It seems Hortons had a reason for clipping the article of punctuation - and it is a Canadian thing after all, specifically a Quebec thing.

The chain actually started out as Tim Horton's, but that became a problem in the province of Quebec, which prefers all things French all the time.

The way I understand it, and bear with me here, Quebec's language laws stipulate that commercial signs must be translated to French unless a business name is a personal name. That makes possessive apostrophes, a product of the King's English, illegal (although you can hang a second sign in English if you're OK with its letters being 50 percent smaller than their French counterparts).

I even stumbled upon a 2005 article where a man named Bob Rice, an owner of a plumbing and farm supplies business, was fined $786 for his sign that read "Bob's." Rice had to pay up within a week or have his Ford F-350 pickup truck, farm tractor and Chevrolet Cavalier auctioned off from his yard. All because a pesky Quebecker complained about the apostrophe on his sign.

The Tim Hortons people skirted these ridiculous laws by deleting the apostrophe from their signage and logo - and not just in Quebec but at all their outlets, thus creating the glaring grammatical error we see today.

They also saved some money by going uniform. It would've been pretty expensive to have "Les beignes de Tim Horton" in Quebec and "Tim Horton's" for the remainder of North America.

So it was a simple business decision. Kind of strange that they chose to appease Quebec rather than the rest of Canada (and I guess they didn't foresee expansion in the U.S.), but that's another story.

At least they had a reason.

I wonder what excuses Starbucks and Walgreens have.

This is the opinion of Ken Sorensen, a sports copy editor at The Day.


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