Apostrophes: you either love them or you don’t know how to use them.
A battle has been waged in the UK recently, with Mid Devon District council announcing its decision to remove all apostrophes from town and street signs to avoid ‘potential confusion’. Sure, because there is nothing less contentious than messing with punctuation.
Mary Elizabeth Williams, writing for Salon, suggested people fall into two categories: ‘those who don’t see what the big deal is, and those who are currently making strangled, gasping cries from the backs of their throats.’
The problem is, those folks (okay, us folks) making that back-of-the-throat noise do it at serious volume, while those that don’t care are have already moved on to tearing the wings off flies and marrying their cousins.
Poor Mid Devon District was just following in the footsteps of Birmingham, which did away with all its apostrophes four years ago to avoid problems for emergency services. Because presumably people were dropping dead in Barker’s Lane and Prince’s Square while the operators were searching for the right key on the operating system. But who deserves to die: old Charlie Winters with the dodgy ticker who didn’t have long left anyway, or the ENTIRE ENGLISH LANGUAGE?
We can blame the internet to a certain extent – or at least, whatever power-hungry cyber-nerd decided URLs couldn’t have apostrophes. Businesses all over the place are dumping their apostrophes for their web address, and then finding they can get along very well without them, thank you very much.
Sort of like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Sure, you don’t need to say them, but once you stop, the fabric of society has a loose thread, somebody goes, ‘Oh, what’s that there? I’ll just give it a tug.’ And soon enough we are all standing around naked, exposed and angry at each other.
Those that would seek to murder the apostrophe will tell you they have only been around since the Sixteenth Century, and came to prominence in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, so we shouldn’t be too attached to it.
John E McIntyre from the Baltimore Sun opined that apostrophe preservationists are just making “a feeble effort to grasp at a sense of superiority.” Clearly John doesn’t know his its from his it’s. What John needs is a good editor. He should give me a call to discuss my vast editing experience and reasonable rates.
In the interests of showing both sides of the argument, you can check out some more smug, self-congratulatory arguments for abolishing the apostrophe here. Apparently, if George Bernard Shaw doesn’t like something, it justifies the whole of society doing away with them. I hear he didn’t care much for cats.
But back to our friends in Mid Devon, passionate punctuationist Stefan Gatward became an outlaw hero when he went on a campaign to correct – or ‘deface’, as the local police saw it – his neighbourhood’s new-look signs, telling the Telegraph, ‘It’s the cavalier attitude to language I can’t abide.’
Mid Devon Council finally gave in and reversed their decision, with council leader Peter Hare-Scott saying, ‘Personally, I’m not happy about using English that’s incorrect and don’t find this acceptable. We made absolutely clear we wouldn’t accept any policy that does away with apostrophes or indeed any other punctuation marks. As a public body … we have a duty to promote good English.’
It’s here – and only here – that I believe we should let fast food joints be our yardstick. Surely, if McDonald’s can be bothered maintaining an apostrophe, the rest of us can manage?
Dishonourable mention of the week: In keeping with the apostrophe theme, let’s all point and laugh at this ‘Online Grammar Course’, below, currently peddling its wares on one of those daily deal sites. For the record, it should be ‘boss’s boss’. If you want to teach grammar, it’s a good look to get your ad right. A faithful JFK and Stalin fan sent that one in (thanks Mum).