Standing corrected: Why is there no apostrophe in “Hells Angels”?

Flying the other day presented me with an opportunity for an inter-cultural exchange far deeper than any I had had in French Montreal last week. And one with an even happier ending.

Struggling down the aisle toward my seat I found myself squeezed in between three impressively large Hells Angels, 1000 pounds of manhood helpfully identified as such by friendly words and images tattooed over much of their exposed bodies and heads.

How’s it going?
[Menacing glare, dangerous silence, me quickly finding something else to do for a while]

Noticing that, on the back of one skull, “Hells Angels” had no apostrophe, I seized the moment to put my new travelling companion at ease, my luxuriant flowing hair no doubt intimidating him a little:

Ah, you know, that’s funny.
[Puzzled look directed deep into my soul]
I always wondered why there is no apostrophe in “Hells Angels”. Hmm?
Whadthafuc? [Menacing squint] Whadyusay?
Oh, nothing really. But I was just noticing that you have “Hells Angels” tattooed on the back of your head. And I was just wondering aloud–really to myself, but my mouth seems to be making noises–why there is no apostrophe–you know, one of those comma-thingies–in the name Hells Angels. Seems kinda funny, don’t ya think?
[No laughter. Glance across the aisle to “Vern”. Another dangerous silence]
No ideas, I guess?
Vern [leaning across me], is this guy for real? Whadthafuc’s he on about?
He’s sweet on you, that’s all. Hahaha! [I guess I picked the wrong day to wear purple]. Hahaha!

Anyway, to cut to the chase. After 4-5 beers (each of us, me quietening up … a lot), and some sustained snoring from my immediate neighbour (with the neat head tattoo) and cross-the-aisle Vern, I corrected the grammatical mistake left on his skull with a fine-tipped, black marker. Outdoing the Quebec Language Police, and making yet another friend for life, no doubt.

10 thoughts on “Standing corrected: Why is there no apostrophe in “Hells Angels”?

  1. Three apostrophic or anastrophic theories:
    1. Wanting to avoid a confrontation with the Quebec language police that have forced such corporations as Eaton’s to surrender their apostrophe, the Hells Angels may have simply decided to ignore it. See Smithosnian article “Let me be Franc” (1 July 2008)
    2. Hells Angels are not about to let anyone dictate grammar or punctuation to them.
    3. We are under the misimpression that it requires and apostrophe because we misunderstand what it is intended to convey. If Hells is plural and it is being used as an honorific rather than a possessive, than it would be wrong to use an apostrophe, in the same way that is correct to use an apostrophe in Lou Gerhig’s disease but incorrect to use it in Down syndrome (Gerhig had ALS, Down did not have Trisomy 21), or the Lincoln Memorial. So if the phrase refers to angels names in honor of multiple hells, an apostrophe is just plain wrong.
    It might also help to differentiate the Hells Angels from the Hell’s Angels World War II Marine Squadron, which was active about the time that the motorcycle club established its name.

  2. So I guess that’s three good reasons why I shouldn’t have written on the guy’s head, right?

    I’ll keep this in mind next time I’m feeling slightly manic.

  3. #1 There being the possibilty of more then one hell is the answer.
    #2 You never wrote on anyone’s head. You were scared and fantasized that it would be so cool to do it, but you never did. That is the truth.
    #3 In the future instead of trying to be glib try relaxing and just be yourself { unless your real self is a douchebag }.Then just sit there and be quiet.

  4. There was an apostrophe in Hunter Thompson’s 1966 book on them. So perhaps it was stolen, as many small and valuable things are.

  5. Not only is there one boldly placed throughout the book, starting with the title, but it’s also in all the newspaper reports and quotations from others sprinkled throughout the book, though this could just have been some anal editor unable to resist his or her penmanship, running roughshod over the reality behind the careful choice of title.

    I know the feeling. Or at least I can hallucinate that feeling. (But would I still be having it, even if if I was hallucinating?)

  6. I think Hume got it right: what you have is an idea of a feeling, BUT the idea has all the features of the feeling except it’s force and vivacity. (AKA, same neural structures involved.)

    As a consequence, something that enlivens the idea can turn it into the feeling. This would clearly explain your actions on the plane, since alcohol can enliven ideas, as is well known, and lead to actions.

  7. it’s actually explained in their website

    “Should the Hells in Hells Angels have an apostrophe, and be Hell’s Angels? That would be true if there was only one Hell, but life & history has taught us that there are many versions and forms of Hell.”

  8. So are they the Angels named honorifically for all those various forms of Hell–in which case why aren’t they the “Forms of Hell Angels”?–or are they the angels of the many Hells–in which case why aren’t they “Hells’ Angels”?

    Hell, I don’t really care that much (or should that be “Hells, I don’t really care that much”?). I am simply in search of truth. As always.

  9. The reason for no apostrophe is the belief that there is more than on Hell thus Hells & not Hell’s.

    Same answer as 81ss & ogamanantyo

    I don’t think you fixed the tat either, the guy would have beat the piss out of you and wouldn’t care.

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