Usually, I can easily understand the source of a common error: Some people say “irregardless” because they fail to realize the suffix “-less” does the work of the here-inappropriate prefix “ir-“; others confuse “affect” and “effect” due to the relative similarity of their meanings and usage. In the case of the following error, however, I was entirely at a loss:
Extraneous apostrophes have always mystified me, as the mark’s usage is very well-defined, and I have long wondered where the idea of using apostrophes for plurality originated. Fortunately (or perhaps rather unfortunately, given this error type’s proliferation), an answer exists. In the past, it was common to include apostrophes in forming plurals of foreign-sounding words. This was especially pronounced in the signs of English greengrocers, as “bananas” and other imported produce might have seemed quite foreign indeed at one time. This practice expanded, however, to the point of insanity: Greengrocers advertised “apple’s,” “pear’s,” and other strangely possessive fruits and vegetables. This use punctuation is thus sometimes called the “greengrocers’ apostrophe.”
I find it comforting to imagine advertisements featuring the greengrocers’ apostrophe as vague questions rather than plurals, so that a sign reading “apple’s” is in fact asking (albeit in the absence of a question mark) whether that delicious spherical fruit can lay claim to the contents of a nearby produce crate. My fear, however, is that this could create a host of ownership issues. I suppose nothing is perfect.