NB: please set pedantic mode to full. I'm not asking for general vague feelings, but for justification or rejection of a hypothesis from specific (and preferably quoted) rules.

So, the question is: can contractions be formed freely? If there is no l'ss of cl'rity, and the res'lt'ng st'm'nt is not amb'g's, can they just be created at will?

For context: I was discussing with a friend an obviously incorrect sign outside a shop yesterday that read "Sandwich's." We both agreed that this is not the correct plural form of the noun "sandwich".

I then engaged pedantic mode, and pointed out that it could be correct on the grounds that the plural of sandwich is not sandwichs but sandwiches, and that the apostrophe could be indicating the missing e, therefore sandwich's could be correct on the grounds that it is a contraction of the plural form. There is no ambiguity; the shop clearly sells sandwiches, and there is no indication that they may be selling stuff that may belong to a sandwich (besides, the sign only contained that one word).

Unfortunately my friend rejected this position out of hand, and refused point blank to discuss it any further. This argument was wrong; that was the end of the matter, and there was no point discussing it further (a rather worrying attitude, IMHO, for a school teacher.)

If contractions can be formed freely, then my point is valid and the sign is technically correct. If my point is not valid, then logically there must be rules on the formation of contractions that this word violates, hence my NB above, and I suppose the bottom line is: if "sandwich's" is incorrect, even as a contraction of the plural, why, exactly?
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It's known as the grocer's aspostrophe: sandwich's = sandwiches. The apostrophe (') represents the vowel "e". If the writer/speaker wasn't sure if s/he should add -es or -s to form the plural, s/he found an ingenious way around it by using an apostrophe instead, and that process wasn't just pulled out of thin air, either. It follows the pattern for forming contractions:

do not => don't (the apostrophe represent the vowel "o")
I am => I'm (the apostrophe represents the vowel "a")
Hi xpi0t0s (what a handle!-- how do you expect anyone to remember it?)

Of course, there are plenty of special purpose contractions, but only a few generally [url="http://www.mcwdn.org/contract/contract.html "]recognized ones[/url]. Still, we are free to make any contractions we wish in informal written English; the only measure is whether the communication has been clearly transmitted.

In the instance you cite, however, it is not. "Sandwich's" is incorrect as a contraction of "sandwiches" for the same reason that "sh't" is incorrect as a contraction of "shot"-- it is open to misinterpretation.
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Hello Xpi0t0s

I have some sympathy with your line of argument, and think your friend should be soundly scolded.

To judge by the road signs local councils put up in my area, contraction is pretty much a free-for-all. It seems to depend on the point at which the sign-maker suddenly realizes he's about to run out of space.

I'm not sure where you'd find an authoritative set of rules for casual contracting, though, so am reduced to making up my own:

1. The contraction should not resemble an existing non-contracted word.
2. The contraction should not be ambiguous (e.g. t'p'cal can = typical/topical).
3. A word's first letter may not be replaced.

4. Vowels should be replaced in preference to consonants.
5. Where possible, whole syllables should be replaced, rather than miscellaneous letters from several syllables. The last letter of a final syllable should be retained.
6. No more should be replaced than is absolutely necessary.
7. Sound should be respected where possible (e.g. s'teacher for 'schoolteacher' is uncomfortable, because 's' does not suggest the sound of 'school').

Sandwich's for sandwiches would therefore violate 'rule 1'.

(The rules for using slashes instead of apostrophes seem to differ slightly. For some reason, s/teacher looks more acceptable.)

Other posters may have other, more entertaining 'rules'...

Well, I got bored with people nicking perfectly good nicks, saxman, jazzman, jazman (I thought dropping a z would make this one unique), even saxmaestr0 all got nabbed by other people, so a few months ago I decided to use an old password instead of trying to think up yet another new nick (and I don't like the nick+number format; being saxman195623478568953 really doesn't do much for me; besides, you still have the same problem: people have to remember the number). xpi0t0s is formed from the Greek for Christ (I'm a Christian), then picking English letters that resemble the Greek ones (e.g. chi looks a bit like an X), then because some Unix systems require digits in passwords I replaced the o's with 0s.

In most cases people don't need to remember it because directly handling the handle is not necessary; you can just hit the Reply button, or use copy and paste. I suppose, in a sense, I specifically expect people not to remember it because then they can't steal it!

OK, I understand the misinterpretation rule, and that makes sense. However, the only alternative expansion of sandwich's I can think of is "of the sandwich", which would require additional information on the sign, namely what, that might belong to a sandwich, the shop has in stock. Bearing in mind that the pedantic control is cranked right up, are there really any viable alternative interpretations?
It might be Mr Sandwich's shop.

Or even the Earl of Sandwich's.

Lords tend to use only their surnames.

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Nice one MrP - hadn't thought of those. Point conceded.
By definition a contaction is contracting multipletwo words into one. The apostrophe is placed where the 'missing' letter(s) would have been. In your example of Sandwiches - it would not be a contraction because there is only one word involved. It seems to me someone improperly using a possesive apostrophe.
Perhaps the sign belonged to a man named Sandwich and he was merely exercising a need to point out that it did indeed belong to him.
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