A battle is being waged over the apostrophe, and the names of two of the online factions—the Apostrophe Protection Society and Kill the Apostrophe—suggest an extremism usually reserved for blood, rather than ink or pixels. The former, founded by a retired British copy editor, provides a gentle guide to deploying the apostrophe. “It is indeed a threatened species!” the site warns, a little preciously. The Web site Kill the Apostrophe, meanwhile, argues that the mark “serves only to annoy those who know how it is supposed to be used and to confuse those who dont.”
But if apostrophes are threatened, it’s not just because people don’t know how to use them. Smartphone keyboards can make them cumbersome to insert. As Dennis Baron, a professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois, notes, adding an apostrophe to a text message usually means toggling from the main keyboard to one that displays punctuation. “It is inconvenient in terms of interrupting the flow of writing,” he says.
It’s also possible that the apostrophe may not have much place among the writing conventions we’re improvising to fit our clipped digital communications. “Texting is actually kind of like another language teens have developed,” says Scott Campbell, a telecommunications professor at the University of Michigan. “It’s more about being expressive than lazy.” Deliberately dropping punctuation lets people modulate their tone in texts and other informal communications, making it more conversational. Consider that a period is all that separates the neutral See you later from the curt See you later.