Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. The superscript sign ( ' ) used to indicate the omission of a letter or letters from a word, the possessive case, or the plurals of numbers, letters, and abbreviations.
  • n. The direct address of an absent or imaginary person or of a personified abstraction, especially as a digression in the course of a speech or composition.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The text character ’, that serves as a punctuation mark in various languages and as a diacrictical mark in certain rare contexts.
  • n. A sudden exclamatory piece of dialogue addressed to someone or something, especially absent.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A figure of speech by which the orator or writer suddenly breaks off from the previous method of his discourse, and addresses, in the second person, some person or thing, absent or present.”
  • n. The contraction of a word by the omission of a letter or letters, which omission is marked by the character ['] placed where the letter or letters would have been.
  • n. The mark ['] used to denote that a word is contracted (as in ne'er for never, can't for can not), and as a sign of the possessive, singular and plural; as, a boy's hat, boys' hats. In the latter use it originally marked the omission of the letter e.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. In rhetoric, a digressive address; the interruption of the course of a speech or writing, in order to address briefly a person or persons (present or absent, real or imaginary) individually or separately; hence, any abrupt interjectional speech. Originally the term was applied only to such an address made to one present.
  • n. In botany, the arrangement of chlorophyl-granules under the action of direct sunlight (light-apostrophe), and in darkness (dark-apostrophe): in the first case upon the lateral walls of the cells, so that their edges are presented to the light; in the latter, upon the lateral and basal cell-walls: used in distinction from epistrophe (which see).
  • n. In grammar, the omission of one or more letters in a word.
  • n. In writing and printing, the sign (') used to indicate such omission.
  • n. The sign (') used for other purposes, especially, single or double, as a concluding mark of quotation, as in “‘Well done,' said he.” See quotation-mark.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. address to an absent or imaginary person
  • n. the mark (') used to indicate the omission of one or more letters from a printed word

Etymologies

French, from Late Latin apostrophus, from Greek apostrophos, from apostrephein, to turn away : apo-, apo- + strephein, to turn.
Late Latin apostrophē, from Greek, from apostrephein, to turn away; see apostrophe1.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From French apostrophe, or Latin apostrophus, from Ancient Greek ἀπόστροφος (apostrophos, "accent of elision"), a noun use of an adjective from ἀποστρέφω (apostrephō, "I turn away"). (Wiktionary)
From Latin apostrophe, from Ancient Greek ἀποστροφή, from ἀποστρέφω ("I turn away"), from ἀπό + στρέφω ("I turn"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

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Comments

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  • As a few people noted, these examples are of the use of the symbol (') apostrophe and not of the more esoteric definition of a speaker digressing from his or her address into a second person address of an absent, possibly imaginary, person. To that end how about this example of apostrophe: "Perhaps when he planned his address for the 2012 Republican convention, Mr. Eastwood believed his use of apostrophe in addressing an invisible President Obama in an empty chair would both entertain and illustrate his understanding of the President's political positions. What it has done, instead, is ressurect this rhetorical device in a flurry of political satire."

    September 17, 2012

  • Thanks for the cool article. I just tweeted it.

    http://twitter.com/wordnik/status/8866809162

    February 10, 2010

  • A study of the evolution of the apostrophe is underway.

    Edit: Link isn't working, so here it is: http://bit.ly/bzaBe8

    February 10, 2010

  • great link bilby, you deserve an apost trophy.

    November 9, 2009

  • At last! :-D

    November 8, 2009

  • Speaking of stickers, help is at hand.

    November 7, 2009

  • Etymologically: apo-strophe, a from-turning (or turning-from, I guess)

    September 7, 2009

  • Of course, I found apostrophe and adumbrate, but there were no links for what I was really looking for: apostrophized and adumbrated. Writers, in addition to being endlessly interested in rhetoric, are often at sea seeking interesting words for the attribution of quotations. I recently encountered, in adjacent paragraphs, one quoted person who adumbrated his quote, followed by a second person who apostrophized his. Wow! I wanted to check this out. Naturally, there are those who would have us substitute “said” for both these words, but never mind those people.
    Then, there’s the fascinating relation between adumbrated and chiaroscuro. All of these connections were made in my head, not on the site. For instance, none of the examples for apostrophe had reference to rhetoric; there were no rhetorical examples. What’s a writer to do? Could you help? Maybe there literary geniuses out there just waiting for such revelations. What? I’m supposed to find those examples and send them to you? We’ll see.

    August 4, 2009

  • Sounds like you have a lot more guerilla bestickering ahead, sarra.

    February 2, 2009

  • So the plural of datum is dat'a?

    February 2, 2009

  • skip, you missed the deliberate irony in that headline!

    I am slightly miffed that no-one's reported on my bestickering, long ago, an apostropheless St Philip's Place (also Birmingham). You heard it here first. Or last.

    February 2, 2009

  • The Apostrophe Protection Society

    May 11, 2008

  • No, because CD is more than one letter. The plural is CDs.

    April 22, 2008

  • Is that true, mollusque? I don't remember ever knowing that. So cd's is correct for more than one cd, is it?

    April 22, 2008

  • Except for plurals of letters (e.g., "a's", "b's", not "as", "bs").

    April 21, 2008

  • Goe's without saying.

    April 21, 2008

  • An apostrophe does not a plural make.

    April 21, 2008

  • I'd give up my whole apostrophe to have an id.

    April 21, 2008

  • Remember always to use an apostrophe (not an open quote mark) when it appears at the beginning of a word, e.g. ’cause (for because) and ’60s rather than ‘cause and ‘60s.

    Alas, the evil microsoft delights in making unsolicited corrections.

    March 30, 2008

  • A digression in the form of an address to someone not present, or to a personified object or idea

    May 20, 2007

  • Don't put apostrophe's where they don't belong.

    January 25, 2007