Introducing the apostrophantom

September 17, 2009

In previous posts I have mentioned the apostrofly, described in the Guardian style book as “an insect that lands at random on the printed page, depositing an apostrophe wherever it lands”. It looks like this. What then do we make of an entity that absconds from the printed page, leaving only a ghostly trace of the apostrophe it once was?

Here is an image from Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns:

Stan Carey - apostrophantom in Batman - The Dark Knight Returns

Close examination of the word its in the first thought bubble will show you what I mean: there is visible, if only just, a faint smudge in a space that formerly accommodated an errant apostrophe. Someone spotted this apostrophe and dealt with it, presumably with a ruthless efficiency of the sort Batman employs to put evildoers out of action.

That apostrophe, once spotted, never stood a chance, but in its wake there remains an indelible mark testifying to its former corporeality. It is no longer an apostrophe, but it is evidently not nothing; I call this mark the apostrophantom.

This blend describes what it denotes, and also serves to honour the much-maligned genre (superhero comics) that inspired it. Compared with the apostrofly, the apostrophantom is an elusive creature, a rare typographical spectre. And now we have evidence of its existence.

(By the way, if Batman’s internal monologue disturbs you, you wouldn’t be the only one. But his relationship with Robin (aka Carrie) was chaste, and the writer knew what he was doing.)


An apostrophantom in the wild, from Lynne Murphy: