The Grammarphobia Blog

Lyrical punctuation

Q: Anthropologie, a price-inflated clothing company with a creatively spelled name, emailed me a sales pitch with a line of lyrics that I found hilariously alienating. Who goofed—the writer of the song or of the ad?

A: In Anthropologie’s email, the first line of Ingrid Michaelson’s song “You and I” reads this way: “Oh let’s get rich and buy our parents’ homes in the south of France.”

That possessive apostrophe doesn’t belong there.

Obviously, the indie singer-songwriter means “buy our parents homes”—that is, buy homes for the parents, not from them.

The possessive apostrophe in the email version skews the meaning into “let’s buy from our parents the homes they own in the south of France.”

But the mistake is Anthropologie’s, not Ingrid Michaelson’s. The lyrics as given on her website don’t use the apostrophe.

On the other hand, Michaelson isn’t entirely without blame. In the lyrics on her website, the contraction “let’s” is missing its apostrophe. And everything is lowercase, even “France.”

However, we aren’t usually bothered by lyric writers who take liberties with English. We’ve said before on the blog that lyricists are exempt from the rules of grammar, syntax, usage, spelling, pronunciation, and even logic!

As for the company’s “creatively spelled name,” it’s the French word for “anthropology.” In fact, the English word has occasionally been spelled that way too.

For example, that spelling is used in a 1673 English translation of De Motu Cordis, William Harvey’s 1628 book in Latin about the circulation of blood:

“I call the generall doctrine of man Anthropologie, the parts of which, I do ordain to be, according to this division, Psychologie, Somatologie, and Hœmatologie, into the doctrine of the soul, bodie, and blood.”

In case you’re curious, “anthropology” (spelled with a “y”) entered English in the late 16th century.

In fact, the first published reference in the Oxford English Dictionary is from a 1593 work by another Harvey, the astrologer and polemicist Richard Harvey:

“Genealogy or issue which they had, Artes which they studied, Actes which they did. This part of History is named Anthropology.”

The word is ultimately derived from the Greek anthropos (man) and -logia (a science or area of study).

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