Have you heard about the heated battle going on in Great Britain? I guess jolly olde England ain’t so jolly.
Government officials in southwestern England want to abolish the use of apostrophes on street (and other) signs to avoid confusion.
“St. Paul’s Square” would be known as “St. Pauls Square.” How is that less confusing? The point of proper punctuation is to avoid confusion.
The issue is a hotbed of controversy. Outraged grammarians ask, “What is next? A war on commas?” An indignant former council member said, “It is just sloppiness. It sets a bad example from people who should not be setting a bad example.”
I interviewed Queen Elizabeth to get her take on the apostrophe debate. She said, “Come on, people. You all agreed to use the “Queen’s English,” not the “Queens English. I’m the only queen around this joint.” She didn’t say so, but I could tell she was miffed. She left in a huff before I could ask my follow-up question, “What DO you carry in that handbag? It isn’t like you need bus fare.”
I didn’t know this, but misuse of the noble apostrophe abounds in England. They even have a term for it . . . the “grocer’s apostrophe.” Signs in shops, such as “tomato’s for sale,” are common. Government agencies and business omit and add apostrophes with willy-nilly abandon. For example, the London Underground has a stop called Earl’s Court and another is called Barons Court.
An apostrophe advocate in England said, “The correct use of the apostrophe isn’t simply nitpicking; the tiny punctuation mark can make an out-sized difference, as in this sentence: ‘If you’re late for dinner, you can eat your son’s.’ If you don’t put the apostrophe in ‘son’s,’ it’s cannibalism, isn’t it?”
The kerfuffle over the misuse of the apostrophe in England bugged former newspaper copy editor John Richards so much he founded the Apostrophe Protection Society. The society’s website, www.apostrophe.org.uk, has had more than 1.6 million visitors.
Mr. Richards has this to say about the government’s recent proposal to abolish apostrophes from signs. “I don’t see how keeping the apostrophe can cause confusion. They don’t say confusion to whom. It baffles me. I’m all for evolution, as long as it evolves into something better. Change just for the sake of convenience, because people are too lazy to learn to use it properly, isn’t evolution. It is going backward.”
I don’t have trouble using the apostrophe properly. Commas are my bugaboo. However, “it’s vs. its” hangs me up. Every. Single. Time. I have a mental block with the damn rule.
Related articles on the apostrophe War
- End of the road for the misunderstood apostrophe (thetimes.co.uk)
- Council accused of ‘murdering’ punctuation mark after abolishing apostrophes from street names (telegraph.co.uk)
- In the lanes of Devon, the signs aren’t looking good for the apostrophe (independent.co.uk)
- Apostrophe lives to fight another day for good grammar (yorkshirepost.co.uk)
- Dropped Apostrophes Spark Grammar War in Britain (rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Humble apostrophe reprieved in council U-turn (thetimes.co.uk)
- You: Outrage at local authority plans to abolish apostrophe (guardian.co.uk)