February 23, 2024


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Should Taylor Swift's “Tortured Poets Section” contain an apostrophe?

Should Taylor Swift's “Tortured Poets Section” contain an apostrophe?

When Taylor Swift announced at the Grammy Awards that the title of her new album would be “Tortured Poets Oath,” what was your reaction?

Maybe it was: “Oh my God! Her first new album in over a year. I can't wait!”

It might have been something like this: “Ho-hum. I'd rather listen to Shostakovich/Metallica/Baby Shark.”

Or it could have been:

“Shouldn't there be an apostrophe in this title?”

Yes, many people, upon hearing the biggest music trailer of the year, started thinking about diacritics and then talking about it on social media.

“I ruined this album version for my students by making it a lesson about using the apostrophe.” Erin Weinbergan instructor in the Department of English, Theater, Film and Media at the University of Manitoba, wrote on X. (Others have seen via RedditAnd TikTok and other places.)

If you insist on adding an apostrophe, there are two possible places. It could be before the letter “S”: the Tortured Poets Section. This means that the section belongs to only one poet.

“Is it a section dedicated to just one tortured poet, where they can sit alone and write tortured poetry?” Weinberg asked.

Or after the letter S: the section of tortured poets, which includes many poets. “A dedicated section where all the tormented poets can inspire together?” Weinberg asked.

But the title as it officially reads does not contain an apostrophe: “The Tortured Poets Department.” It's like those other great works of art that don't have an apostrophe, like “Dead Poets Society” and “The Baby-Sitters Club.” In this case, the section does not concern poets. The “poets” describe the section.

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“Nouns can be attributive, which means we can use them to describe things in the same way we use adjectives,” said Mignon Fogarty, host of “Grammar Girl.” “'Tortured Poets' tells us what kind of department it is, in the same way that 'Cosmetics' tells us what kind of department we visit at Macy's.”

So what way should the title be? Before you decide that a controversy on the scale of Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift has broken out, know that the consensus of professional grammarians is: It's really up to Swift.

First, there is nothing wrong with any of the possible titles. “Each version is grammatically correct, but conveys its own unique meaning,” Weinberg said.

Grammarians say that not only did Swift have a choice of usage, she might also have chosen the one appropriate to the intended meaning.

“I find the apostrophe-free option to be by far the most attractive and logical option,” said Ellen Goffin, author of Rebel with a Subjunctive: Tales and Advice from a Wandering Grammarian. “I think there are a lot of tortured poets, and I understand 'poets' as an adjective. It's a section of tortured poets. I don't want an apostrophe there! I trust Taylor Swift's use of an apostrophe.”

“The title is fine without an apostrophe; the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn't use one,” said Mark Bolick, assistant standards editor at The New York Times. “What's good enough for the US government's official designation should be good enough for Taylor Swift.” “

Weinberg liked Swift's choice as well: “I like to think of tortured poets who would hang out collectively in their own section, a space to feel their feelings and write about them in a supportive environment.”

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Since Taylor Swift is everywhere and everything these days, you won't be surprised to learn that this isn't the first time she's made rules-related news.

In 2015, a fan pointed out The apostrophe appears to be incorrectly missing from “it” in some of the handwritten words published by Swift.

Swift responded by pointing out that the apostrophe was there but obscured by the back of the “Y” above it. She ended by politely pointing out three errors in the fan's post.

Is there anything Taylor Swift can't do?