Just in time for National Punctuation Day on Sept. 24 (please celebrate responsibly), Old Navy has unleashed one doozy of a linguistic blunder. I would love to say that the clothing chain was attempting to be ironic, but sadly, I’d be wrong.
Now, we all make mistakes. I, self-proclaimed grammar vigilante, spelled umbrage incorrectly just last week (umberage: wrong; umbrage: right). The difference is that I didn’t spell umbrage incorrectly on thousands of T-shirts that went out to stores all over the United States. Which brings me back to Old Navy.
Here’s the story: Old Navy printed sports T-shirts with “Lets go” across the front.
What’s wrong with that, you ask? Stare at the phrase “Lets go” long and hard. There should be an apostrophe after the “t” because it’s a contraction of “let us go,” right?
Right. (See? You did pay close attention in Sister Clare’s English class. Oh, wait, that was me.)
It gets better. This grammar goof was on T-shirts for—wait for it—colleges throughout the United States. Resulting in a green and yellow T-shirt that reads “Lets go Ducks” for the University of Oregon, or a scarlet and gray T-shirt that reads “Lets go Buckeyes” for The Ohio State University.
As an Ohio native, that last one particularly stings.
(Editor’s note: There also should be a comma after “go,” because “Ducks” and “Buckeyes” are nouns of direct address, just as “Gladys” is in the sentence, “Please hand me that harmonica, Gladys.” Therefore it should be “Let’s go, Buckeyes”—as opposed to “Let’s go bowling.”)
Yes, Old Navy, let’s celebrate colleges by erroneously punctuating words on T-shirts promoting those bastions of higher learning.
I get the random mistake here and there, and I’ve even been guilty of them on a fairly regular basis. (See umbrage, above.) But how did this error get all through the ranks of editors, slipping by unnoticed and ultimately reaching the print shop?
The larger question
Have we completely abandoned our apostrophe rules?
Sadly, this error isn’t limited to Old Navy. Over the last few weeks, I’ve driven past a sign in front of a credit union that advertises “Low APR rates for boats, ATV’s and RV’s.”
Boats is a plural noun, therefore no apostrophe is needed, so well done there.
But then someone went all crazy with apostrophes for the ATVs and RVs when they don’t need one at all. The only time an apostrophe is necessary is if you’re talking about RV as a possessive noun, as in “I particularly like the RV’s fuchsia shag carpet.”
When I point out these errors to the people responsible (um, yes, I do that—overly obnoxious?), the response is often the same: “It just looks better that way.”
Back in the ’80s someone thought leg warmers with high heels looked good. A misguided interior designer once made the grave mistake of assuming a mechanical singing fish hanging on a living room wall looked good. And the entire band Flock of Seagulls once believed mullets were the way to go. But just because you think it, that does not make it so.
Thank the Lord.
Geography has hard and fast rules. Topeka is in Kansas—period. Math also has rules. The square root of 64 is 8—period. (Says the woman who ordered four sodas today when there were only three of us because … well, that’s how I count.)
And yes, English has rules built in, for better or for worse. Are they easy and straightforward? No. Is it easy to decide when to use “lay” versus “lie?” No. But I’m nerdy enough to have a cheat sheet on those two words tacked to the wall next to my computer because, let’s face it, when you can’t count accurately and don’t know where Topeka is without looking, you have to capitalize on your strengths.
So let’s go, kids, (notice the apostrophe there?) and get this new school year started off well. Capitalize on your strengths, pay close attention to your teachers and, for Pete’s sake, please follow the rules.
If you bought one of those Old Navy shirts, please return it immediately or get a red marker and insert the apostrophe—and the comma. You’ll sleep better at night knowing that all is right in the punctuation world once again.
Eileen Burmeister lives and works in Southern Oregon. When she is not out fighting grammar crimes, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.