A Financial Times story by Bertrand Benoit describes the insensate rage unleashed in language-loving Germans by the humble apostrophe:

For months, self-appointed language guardians have been hyperventilating about a rise in the indiscriminate use of the apostrophe. Those familiar with the old British discussion about apostrophes and greengrocers may be surprised to hear that Germans have their own version, sometimes referred to as the Idiotenapostroph (they are not big on euphemisms).

After all, one could write a three-tome novel in German without resorting to the said punctuation mark. Yet there are instances where it can be used under strict rules. Annoyingly for the purists, nobody seems to care much about these today…

Apostrophes may also work as shortcuts (Ku’damm instead of Kurfürstendamm). Utterly unacceptable are apostrophised plurals (foto’s), Anglicised possessives (Oma’s Strümpfe) and US-flavoured corporate names (Müller’s Wurstwaren or Beck’s lager). Also online are galleries that name and shame delinquents. The Kapostropheum on has photographs of store windows, labels, web banners and newspaper ads that desecrate genitives, abuse plurals and mistreat imperatives.

Globalisation is only partly to blame. Complete apostrophe chaos ruled in the German language up to 1901, when the Duden dictionary, the country’s ultimate authority in matters of syntax and orthography, issued a blanket ban. For more than 50 years, the edict restored some sort of order. But the fact that Anglo-Americans had a hand in undermining the Duden’s authority – to the point that the august publisher is now angering purists by sanctioning some borderline uses of the apostrophe – is beyond doubt.

The proof lies in the first issue of the Allied-sponsored Aachener Nachrichten daily, which on January 24 1945 proudly proclaimed: Alliierte Flugzeuge zerschlagen Rundstedt’s Rückzugskolonnen (Allied aircrafts destroy Rundstedt’s retreating columns), thus planting the seed that would yield today’s bountiful crop of Idiotenapostrophe.

I have had to correct the German spelling throughout, capitalizing nouns and clipping a final -e off the singular (the German noun is Apostroph, plural Apostrophe); you’d think they’d have at least checked the alleged URL “” and discovered it didn’t go anywhere. (There is a German word Apostrophe, but it carries the rhetorical meaning of ‘direct address.’) You’d think they’d have mentioned the site Idiotenapostroph, if not Rette’t de’n Apo’stro’ph!, which goes into great detail about form (straight or curved?), gender, morphology, and usage. And for previous LH apostrophic madness, go here.

Update. Margaret Marks links to another site (with pictures) that uses another name for the dreaded phenomenon: Deppenapostroph.
(Thanks for the link, Paul!)


  1. Like lots of British coverage of German issues, what’s written is wrong in the details—as you’ve found—and is not quite the whole story. Cf. Duden, Die Grammatik, 2005, ISBN 3-411-04047-5, p. 213:

    „Bei Eigennamen, die im Nominativ auf einen s–Laut ausgehen […], verschmilzt die Genitivendung damit. In geschriebener Standardsprache wird die Verschmelzung mit dem Apostroph angezeigt. […] [Examples:] Fritz’ Hut, Demosthenes’ Reden, Paracelsus’ Schriften …“

    Now, to the reader with English as a first language, those examples look as Anglicised as anything, but they’re perfectly correct German.

  2. And then I follow the rest of you links and find my commentary superflous—whee! 🙂

  3. It seems to me that a standard for correct punctuation could easily be established by extracting rules from the collected works of an acknowledged master, with Laurence Sterne being the obvious choice since he used more punctuation than anyone.

  4. Andrew Nagy says

    In reply to
    quote: “The \”beg the question\” battle, however, was lost almost as soon as it was begun. The recondite philosophical usage had no chance against the normal English meaning of \”beg.\” And, there’s probably no way to impart the same thought in three words…”
    What about “Assuming your conclusion”?

  5. (There is a German word Apostrophe, but it carries the rhetorical meaning of ‘direct address.’)
    As in English.

  6. There is also apostropher as a verb in French. The Tresor de la Langue Francaise
    gives the first meanings as the German, to addres someone or something directly, but a secondary meaning seems, in my experience, to be the common usage now:
    Interpeller quelqu’un vivement, généralement de manière désobligeante :
    to speak sharply to someone, generally in an disagreeable or offensive manner.

  7. I am blogging this and mentioning the name I know it under, the Deppenapostroph. If you look at, you will see why! See also, for a photo by me,

  8. Man, Germans throw enough Umlauten around that you’d think they’d be a little less uptight about a few extra bits and pieces up there above the main line of characters.

  9. Englishe hase enoughe silente e’s thate youe’de thinke theye’de bee ae little lesse uptighte aboute ae fewe moree, bute stille peoplee saye thise ise note spelte correctlye…

  10. Goe backe to the Middele Ages where youe caem frome ande don’t bothere us here.

  11. Or go to Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog:

  12. O, snappe!

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