The war of the apostrophe

by Toby Manhire / 25 March, 2013
English council under attack for anti-apostrophe street-sign policy.
Its an outrage.

An English local authority has upset right-thinking lovers of grammar the world over with its policy of removing apostrophes from street names, to "avoid potential confusion".

Reports BBC Online: “Mid Devon District Council said its new streets had not contained apostrophes for many years, but the policy was now being made official.”

The famous Times of London, was undelighted, and swiftly drew the editorial pencil from its scabbard.

The punctilious urge to tidy up the language by excising apostrophes from proper names is admittedly found outside Devon and it appears to be spreading. But there are good reasons for avoiding that temptation ...

The apostrophe is a punctuation mark that drives out ambiguity. It allows the reader to tell immediately if a word or name is a singular possessive (“Baker’s View”), a plural possessive (“Bakers’ View”) or a plural noun followed by a verb (“Bakers View”).

The apostrophe occupies a small space in print or on signs but performs an invaluable role by its presence, position or absence. There is no more versatile, precise and economical mark in the language. Writers who use it accurately can be sure of being understood. Those who use it heedlessly or dispense with it will, contrary to the aims of Mid Devon’s municipal authorities, provoke disarray where they intend only neatness and comprehension. Mark it well.

Or, as others have put it, notes the Times, "knowing your apostrophes is the difference between 'knowing your s**t' and 'knowing you’re s**t'".

The cause has been taken up outside England, too. Harvey Morris in the International Herald Tribune explores the current “grammar war”, and surveys the long global history of “skirmishes over the wayward apostrophe”.

And at Foreign Policy, Uri Friedman notes the passions apostrophes can rouse.

In 2009, for instance, the Daily Mail profiled a "punctuation hero" who was accused of being a vandal after he painted a missing apostrophe on a sign near his home (the man also refused to get in the “five items or less” line at the supermarket because the notice should read, 'five items or fewer').

That same year, the Birmingham City Council got in a feud with the UK's Apostrophe Protection Society - yes, the Apostrophe Protection Society - after authorities refused to add apostrophes to the city's road signs. "I have done my own research into the use of the possessive apostrophe in place names," one council member declared in defending the decision.

As for the latest punctuation dustup, the Mid Devon District Council's statement declares that "our proposed policy on street naming and numbering covers a whole host of practical issues, many of which are aimed at reducing potential confusion over street names." Careful readers will notice that the statement does not include a single apostrophe.

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


A post-mortem on Todd Barclay and Matt McCarten's fiascos
76497 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z Politics

A post-mortem on Todd Barclay and Matt McCarten's …

by Jane Clifton

In the catalogue of disaster, is a Todd Barclay worse than a Matt McCarten?

Read more
The Trump family's Kremlin connection
76655 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z World

The Trump family's Kremlin connection

by Paul Thomas

From “nothing to see here” to a Cold War-era spy story played out in real life, the Trump family’s Kremlin connection is a source of fascination.

Read more
The Journey – movie review
76661 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z Movies

The Journey – movie review

by James Robins

A van isn’t a great vehicle for a drama on how old enemies ended the Troubles.

Read more
Gaylene Preston on the difficulties of filming at the United Nations
76664 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Gaylene Preston on the difficulties of filming at …

by David Larsen

Tracking Helen Clark’s tilt for the top job at the United Nations, Gaylene Preston documented the creatures of the diplomatic world.

Read more
Jackie van Beek puts the gags aside for The Inland Road
76815 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Jackie van Beek puts the gags aside for The Inland…

by Russell Baillie

Best known for her comedy roles, Jackie van Beek takes a dramatic detour in her feature-directing debut.

Read more
Parisian Neckwear plays the long game, even as its centenary approaches
76427 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z Small business

Parisian Neckwear plays the long game, even as its…

by Rob O'Neill

Parisian Neckwear, founded in 1919, has survived depression, war, deregulation and a deluge of cheap imports. How? Just feel the cloth.

Read more
David Tamihere case: Key witnesses' doubts about murder of Swedish tourists
76738 2017-07-23 00:00:00Z Crime

David Tamihere case: Key witnesses' doubts about m…

by Donna Chisholm

Nearly 30 years after young Swedish tourists Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen disappeared in the Coromandel key witnesses say the mystery haunts them.

Read more
Modern slavery and tourism: when holidays and human exploitation collide
76728 2017-07-23 00:00:00Z Social issues

Modern slavery and tourism: when holidays and huma…

by The Conversation

With the advent of orphanage tourism, travellers think they're doing good. But they can often just be lining the pockets of the orphanages' owners.

Read more