Apostrophes and Periods!

I recently went to a North Carolina Writers Network meeting in Asheville. Nina Hart, Writing from the Top of your Head, was the speaker. She’s a writing and creativity coach, who help people become fearless writers.

Because I write about the outdoors, I don’t have writer’s block. I start with facts, try to make them interesting and relevant, but I can always rely on facts.

The writing exercise was: Write the worst that you can. What??

Since I didn’t know what that meant, I wrote the first thing that came to my head about writing badly: I judge people by their use of apostrophes.

I could go on about the “IT’S” and ITS problem but I’m an outdoor writer.

Poster campaign at OVC

Clingmans Dome

I try to let people know gently that there’s no apostrophe in Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Since 1890, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has been the official arbiter of American place names. This board decided from the very beginning to not use apostrophes. So Clingmans Dome and other place names usually don’t use the possessive form.

Some say that cartographers feared that these punctuation marks could be mistaken for topographic features or symbols. Leaving out the apostrophe reduces the amount of printed type on a map.

Another reason might be that apostrophes suggest possession or associations not meant to be used within the body of a proper name. The idea is that geographic names belong to all of us. Owning a piece of land is not in itself a reason to name it after the landlord.

Another blog quotes Jennifer Runyon, a senior researcher for the board.

“It’s ingrained in us from the first day on the job that geographic names belong to all the people,” she said. “The feeling is that owners come and go, but names are supposed to stand the test of time.”

Gene Espy, 2nd A.T. Thru-Hiker

Appalachian Trail – A.T.

Then there are the periods in A.T. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which manages the Appalachian Trail, uses periods and that’s the right way. They get to say how to abbreviate their trail.

For completeness, Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail uses MST, without periods. That’s good enough for me.

I’m not a Grammar Vigilante. I don’t try to sneak around fixing grammar on public boards. I just stick to outdoor names.

What you can learn from “writing badly”.

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