Mentioning Guns N’ Roses yesterday, I realised something: their use of punctuation in their name is perhaps not strictly correct!
Give yourself a moment to get over that shock. You see, I saw it pointed out somewhere recently that any time you abbreviate and to just a single N, it strictly should have two apostrophes, like so: ‘n’
The logic behind this is that when we make a contraction by removing a letter, we replace that letter with an apostrophe, as in don’t or I’m. But in contracting and, we’re removing two letters, and thus need to replace each with an apostrophe. It’s something I’d never really thought about before, but was obvious once I began to consider it.
So before I typed out the band’s name, I did a quick check to see how many apostrophes they use. Curiously, on their official logo (above) they don’t use an apostrophe at all, but the title of their website is Guns N’ Roses, so I decided to go with that as the official line, and use that in my post (they use the apostrophe, and lower-case O, correctly in the title of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by the way).
But are they really wrong in using one apostrophe? And are they alone in doing so? To answer the second question first: far from it. Usage seems to be fairly mixed, with probably slightly more cases of one apostrophe after the N than two, and even the occasional apostrophe before the N. And really, each way to do it is basically fine (though one apostrophe before the N does look a bit odd to me). It’s so relatively rare to abbreviate and in this way that no consensus has ever really formed on what the right way is.
There was one outlier that came up that I’d never noticed before, and that’s Toys “R” Us (I’m not going to try to replicate their cutesy backwards R). It seems odd to use quotation marks like that, but it’s still logical if you consider that they’re saying that it’s not really an R, as it in fact represents the word are.
Another chink in the armour of the two-apostrophes argument is that we replace two letters with one apostrophe all the time in English. Consider how we change can not/cannot to can’t. Or, every single contraction of have or has, e.g. I’ve, you’ve, he’s, she’s etc. Of course in these cases replacing each letter with an apostrophe would lead to to apostrophes side by side, which would look very strange, but still, it demonstrates exactly why we make exceptions to make language easier to digest.
So yes, you could argue that Guns N’ Roses et al should have two apostrophes, but one gets the message across that it’s a contraction just fine, and it looks better. Now let’s all enjoy some soothing Sunday morning sounds: