February 13, 2014

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Apostrophes again and aggravation

Posted in aggravate or irritate, apostrophe at 6:01 am by dlseltzer

I was going to answer a reader’s question today, but I am going to wait until next week instead (sorry, Alena) because, recently, in three separate proposals, written by three different authors, I found the exact same mistake, and I am finding myself more and more irritated each time I see it. This is the example I ran into this morning:

 During my first year of fellowship, I completed a Masters in Health Services Research.

 While it is great that we have so many well-educated folks around here, none of them has a masters, although many have a master’s. Master’s is short for Master’s degree so even when you leave out the word, degree, you still need the apostrophe to show possession.

 [NOTE: While I don’t feel that this is necessary, Pitt’s style guide even goes so far to say that you should always use the word, degree, when you speak of a master’s or bachelor’s i.e., according to Pitt,  the sentence, above, should read:

 During my first year of fellowship, I completed a Master’s degree in Health Services Research.

As I said, I wouldn’t go that far, especially when trying to conserve space in grant proposals.]

BUT, you still need the apostrophe!

We tend to be careless with some of our punctuation, but you never know when one of your readers/reviewers is a stickler like me, and the carelessness can come back to bite you a bit. It behooves us to write carefully and clearly. And give the apostrophe its due!

So what about aggravation? Well, when I started writing this wlut, instead of saying ‘irritated’ in the first paragraph,  I was going to write ‘aggravated,’ but I decided not to.

The reason I decided not to is this: although ‘aggravated’ can be used as a synonym to ‘irritated’ in casual writing, as it is the colloquial use, that’s not the real meaning, and I don’t want to encourage you to adopt that usage. FYI, ‘aggravate’ really means ‘exacerbate’ or ‘make worse’ as in this usage:

The experiment aggravated the condition, leading to the plant’s demise.

 ‘Aggravate’ is (and has been) used as synonym to ‘irritate’ commonly, but, remember the sticklers, and use it in that manner at your own risk!

1 Comment »

  1. This is a problem that I come upon often as I edit dissertations. In addition, I believe the word “master’s” isn’t capitalized as you have it. (CMOS). It would be capitalized if it’s the name of a specific degree, as in “Master of Health Services.”


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