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For years I have thought the Oakland Athletics baseball team has misused the apostrophe. I've always thought the "A" is an abbreviation for "Athletic" and the "s" makes "Athletic" plural. Is my thinking correct?

If not, why is "A's" an acceptable shortening of "Athletics"?

Oakland Athletics Logo

The same is true with multiple versions of the Baltimore Orioles logo.

Baltimore Orioles logo

I would like citations for reasoning.

Thanks.

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According to the MLA Handbook, section 2.2.7:

A principal function of the apostrophe is to indicate possession. The apostrophe is also used to form ... the plurals of the letters of the alphabet (p's and q's, three A's).

So, according to MLA at least, these logos have it right.

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  • It may be right, but it grinds my gears. Should be 'A's not A's. – Ronan Mar 27 '14 at 16:53
  • Alex is wondering if the MLA handbook actually used the spelling "principle" here, as it seems to be a typo for "principal." – herisson Dec 5 '15 at 23:16
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Apostrophes can be used to show omission of letters.

It can also be used to form plurals of lowercase letters.

Consider if, after abbreviating "Athletic(s)" to "A", you wanted to refer to the team in a sentence: The As won the game. One could easily misread the team name as the word "as", though that makes the sentence ungrammatical. The apostrophe clears up the ambiguity and prevents such hang-ups while reading.

On a side note: the abbreviation is usually paired with a definite article: Will the A's move to San Jose?

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  • 2
    Another thing to consider is that aside from certain very widely used forms of personal or geographic address "Mr.", "Jr.", or "Blvd.", it is unusual to omit letters in the middle of a word without an apostrophe. The apostrophe in the Oakland A's logo could be viewed as representing "thletic". – supercat Oct 17 '12 at 3:05
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The earlier answerers are certainly correct in saying that "A's" is properly punctuated with an apostrophe. One of the answers, however, focuses on the general question of how to treat the plural of a single letter (in this case, A); and the other suggests that the "A's" in "Oakland A's" is an abbreviation. In my view, "A's" is more properly viewed as a contraction of "Athletics"—not that the distinction alters the bottom line that "A's" should have an apostrophe.

As a historical point of interest, I note that the Philadelphia Athletics' cap logo was "A," not "A's." (See the first photo in Wikipedia's article on the Philadelphia Athletics.)

The "A" cap logo carried over through the first five years or so of the Kansas City Athletics, as these images indicate. Around 1960, the Athletics changed their cap logo to the overlaid KC that the team retained until it left for Oakland at the end of 1967.

In Oakland, the cap logo reverted to "A," as these photos from 1969 show. The still-current "A's" cap logo seems to have originated in 1970.


On a final language-related note, I've read that Charlie Finley (the owner of the Athletics during their last years in in Kansas City and early years in Oakland) was responsible for the push in the early 1970s to call the team "the A's" rather than "the Athletics"—an effort that he promoted quite effectively by ordering his TV and radio broadcasters never to say "Athletics." Supposedly, Finley objected to calling his team "the Athletics" because "There's no such thing as an athletic!"

It seems likely that Finley misunderstood the nature of his team's name. In Pamela A. Bakker, Eyes on the Sporting Scene, 1870–1930: Will and June Rankin, New York's Sportswriting Brothers (2013), the authors point out that two Philadelphia sports clubs played an early form of baseball by the year 1860:

During the boyhood of Will and June, it is unknown if they were exposed to ball games like round town ball, Philadelphia town ball, or bandy wicket, all of which had been played in Pennsylvania before the Civil War. ... The New York Knickerbockers had been formed in September 1845, and a host of New York City, Brooklyn, Long Island, and New Jersey clubs joined suit from 1854 through 1857. Philadelphia's Olympic club had switched from townball and cricket to the New York style of baseball in 1859 and Philadelphia's Athletics club switched in April 1860[.]

This passage suggests that the name "Athletics" didn't signify a plural form of "Athletic," but referred to "Athletics" in the sense of athletic activities, as pursued by an athletics club.

In any event, Finley wanted the "A" in "A's" to stand for nothing but the letter A, which would bring us full circle to Jay's answer above, if Finley had succeeded in eradicating the name "Athletics"—which he didn't.

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I applaud the rigour of this grammatical and historical analysis. But if indeed we treat the apostrophe as marking missing letters, then shouldn’t there also be an apostrophe in the name of the team that plays in Queens? The New York Met[ropolitan]s?

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  • This appears to be a new question and not an answer. – KillingTime May 24 at 5:41
  • This is a good question. I think the short answer is that abbreviations that involve reducing a word or a key part of a word in a team name to a single letter generally are signaled with special punctuation—though not always with an apostrophe. Case in point 1: The Seattle Mariners are often referred to familiarly in print headlines as "the M's." Case in point 2: Th Arizona Diamondbacks are often referred to in print as "the D-backs." On the other hand, I recall the now-defunct Houston Post referring to my hometown Houston Astros as "the 'stros"—which is essentially the anti-"A's" treatment. – Sven Yargs May 24 at 6:08
  • ...But longer names familiarly truncated after the first syllable simply aren't treated in the same way that "A's," O's," "M's," and "D-backs" are. Newspapers universally agree in referring to "the Mets," "the Yanks," "the Nats," "the Cards," "the Phils," "the Bucs" (i.e., Buccaneers—that is, the Pirates), etc. – Sven Yargs May 24 at 6:14

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