Almanac Life: A Pretty Possessive Apostrophe

On this July afternoon when the sun has the pale sky to itself and warms our faces in that uplifting, a South Australian-winter’s-not-so-bad way, the boys and I were about to leave the Adelaide Botanic Gardens and make our boisterous path along the River Torrens to the North Terrace holiday apartment.


We’d had a fantastic morning in the 51-hectare public garden at the city’s north-east corner and I saw it, just by the Plain Tree Drive exit. Beyond the vertical and ascending letters I was struck by its many expressions of beauty.


It was the Friends’ Gate sign.



It’s named for the volunteer organisation, Friends of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide, who has supported the Adelaide, Mt Lofty, and Wittunga gardens since 1977. Community and enterprise of this scope are worth commemorating with a gate and declarative sign and my heart was gladdened.


My second reading of the sign was that it’s not only for this society, but also for all friends visiting the Botanic Gardens. It’s an expansive symbol for those past, present and future who have happened by this gate. To meet someone by the Friends’ Gate surely provides a welcoming and opportune reminder of the relationship you share.


What better way to begin an hour or so in a beloved’s company than with a smile and hug by this cosy sign?


I’m neither grammarian nor linguist, but simply love locating joy in words and the worlds they create, and so my subsequent reading of the sign focussed on the possessive apostrophe. I noted how visually diminutive it is but was alerted to its terrier conviction.


The apostrophe was instantly affirming and seemed to suggest everything enchanting about the time and place. As the sun hung in the midday heavens I found abundant delight in this gentle space in our mostly gentle city. It was almost a Russian doll effect: state; city; garden; sign. Although an artificial construct, there was punctuative beauty in this natural if manicured garden. I was spellbound.



Like most moments this apostrophe existed in a personal context. Telling Claire of it later she wondered if it might be exclusive and indicating a club for the privileged few. I suggested that I didn’t find it aggressive, but rather inclusive and quietly proud.


I later speculated if Mr John Richards, the 96-year-old founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society, might have also enjoyed the Friends’ Gate so much that it inspired him to reverse his recent decision to close down his very British organisation.


I also thought about the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’ – a phrase referring to the mistaken use of an apostrophe, in a plural noun such as ‘Cauliflower’s – two for a dollar!’ Of equal horror for some is the clanging absence of one, the prickly omission when confronted with a line like, ‘Tigers car window broken with 9-iron.’


The Friends’ Gate sign was certain and unhurried – if a punctuation mark can connote movement. I imagined it inspiring an acoustic Belle and Sebastian song with a sweetly soaring chorus, or a Bruce Dawe poem, all festive and tender awe and penned in a distant decade.


This possessive apostrophe stayed with me as we hiked behind the zoo and Adelaide Oval then grew in the west.




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About Mickey Randall

No, instead I get out my Volleys, each with the inescapable hole, just by the little toe. What if someone bought a pair of Volleys and they didn’t develop these holes? The absence of holes would itself make a psychological hole.


  1. Earl O'Neill says

    Looks like a beaut place, Mickey.
    The apostrophe works in ‘Friends’ Gate.’ Perhaps because I have an apostrophe in my name, I can spend 80 minutes going over the punctuation in an article writ in 40 minutes. Lately I’ve decided that less is better. Cauliflower’s bothers me more than Tigers.
    That’s an elegant piece of writing that.

  2. As always after reading your posts Mickey, I am left feeling glad about our world and warmed by the joy you observe around you. Even from an apostrophe. Right there.

  3. Like it Mickey.

    Don’t start me on apostrophes. Loads of public Service forms require me to fill out my full name, so I do. With the surname O’Donnell. But I always get an error message saying I have included something in my name that the system can’t recognise – the apostrophe!! So I’m forced to write my surname as ODonnell. But that’s not my surname!!

    Its the little things.

  4. Thanks Earl. I know language changes constantly- hearing those under about 25 say, “Who are we versing this weekend?” is evidence aplenty for this- but there’s an elegance and appeal about the apostrophe that means I hope it survives. Its silence in the spoken word means it may not. I’m with you on cauliflower’s v tigers.

    Someone- thanks for reading and commenting. So. Much. Joy.

  5. roger lowrey says

    Even by your own lofty literary standards Mickey, you excel yourself mate. I love the attention applied to errant apostrophes because they deserve it.

    On a separate but related matter, my friends have sternly warned me not to deface the sign but I have an irresistible itch that just needs to be scratched. One day I’ll just go and correct it and and cop the penalty.

    There is a major VicRoads sign in Belmont on the way to Torquay advising drivers of “less delays” taking the inland route to the Great Ocean Road.

    No no no, not less but fewer. Why aren’t there mass protests about this then? Don’t worry. I’ll fix ’em.


  6. Nicole Kelly says

    Love this, Mickey! As a teacher, I believe punctuation should bring meaning and joy to everything that we write! I love that it brought you joy… often the use (or misuse) of apostrophes bring me tears and frustration!!

  7. Peter Fuller says

    Then you will have to take your spray can (or marker pen) to all Coles’ Supermarkets within reach and amend the express checkout sign twelve items or less.
    The reason that there aren’t protests is that the handful of us who know and care have just about conceded to the tide of ignorance.
    Thank you for the piece Mickey, conjures up some pleasant memories at a time when memories of Adelaide (and other cities) are all we have.

  8. Shane Reid says

    This is great Mickey. I have just finished correcting some year twelve essays. Errant apostrophe use brings me the opposite of joy on a weekly basis! I always tell them that you are better to be wrong by not using an apostrophe than by using one incorrectly. You’ve given me something to think about!

  9. Rulebook says

    Mickey as editors of the almanac know grammar is not my strength in life ( massive understatement)
    May we’ll be the first time I’ve thought about a apostrophe! Great photos ( fair point by Dips )

  10. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Is it Mitani’s or Mitanis’ ?

  11. Dips- your public service pain is real for me too. Happily volunteering again to manage one of my boy’s soccer teams I’ve just learnt that I need to do three online courses, apply, sit an interview and undertake a site induction. The world is increasingly self-parodying.

    RDL- it would seem that VicRoads is on the road to nowhere.

    Nicole- as a former teacher I recall apostrophe fatigue too well.

    Peter- Coles and many corporations could do the apostrophe walk of shame, I reckon.

    Shane- a colleague leant me an informative and funny book called “F*cking Apostrophes” and I recommend it! Great comic relief.

    Rulebook- that may be true but your interviewing and storytelling are peerless. Looking forward to your next player profile.

    Swish- I think the Mitani hoarding on the Riverbank Stand might be gone. How can we go on?

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  12. Misplaced apostrophes irk me greatly, Mickey.
    I loved this piece, so refreshingly well-paced and reflective.
    Well played once again!

  13. YeahTigers2020 says

    So good to hear from someone who also cares about possessive apostrophes. Our local pizza shop is always selling pizza’s and it really hurts.

  14. Daryl Schramm says

    My care factor on the apostrophes exists, but not to the level of others here. Just a great story about a family adventure in some of the loveliest parts (parks) of Adelaide. I should visit more often outside my now annual sojourn to WOMADelaide.

  15. E.regnans says

    Yes, Mickey.
    I remain convinced that this is important public service work you continue to perform.

    Advocacy for the apostrophe; sure.
    But really, I salute the capturing of otherwise innocent and soon-to-be-forgotten moments.
    Hats off.

  16. Thanks very much Smokie, YeahTigers2020, Daryl and E.r.

    Sitting at work in a very sparse space and wondering about people in this excellent FA community and their very different current contexts across the country and indeed, the globe. This website and its combined passions is most important as a well-being strategy and I feel lucky to be involved. I wish everyone well!

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