Friday, 6 December 2013

Apostrophe Catastrophe

I am obviously on a language bent this week; first currying favour, and now the apostrophe.

The OED published a blog post in May this year on the Devon County Council determining to drop apostrophes from its signage, following the bookseller, Waterstones, lead on dropping the apostrophe from its name.

There was a media storm around the Council's decision. Lots of self-appointed 'protectors' of the Queen's English got on their high horse and made comparisions of societal decay to match the Global Financial Crisis, cast dire warnings about the erosion of standards, and forecast our future inability to communicate.

Interestingly - and this is something I have not thought about before - the OED pointed out that we don't use an apostrophe in speech; we gain our ideas of possession from context. Contraction is, of course, no problem in speech.

Of course, we do have tone of voice, inflexion and body language to help cue us, which we don't have in writing.

I have been thinking for some time that we should bin the apostrophe. So few people know how to use it - inserting apostrophes in plurals like mad things, but ignoring them in contractions and in possession. And sodding MS Word often replaces my possessive "its" with "it's", and makes me look like a numpty (I keep thinking that I have auto-correct off for that, but it seems to miraculously reassemble, bionically, somewhere in Word's subterranean binary recesses).

Our language has been held somewhat artificially static for a long time, largely because of the printing press. We read fairly archiaic English all the time. No one speaks like that, and if they do, we find them desperately boring. So we have simplified how we speak, yet we still hold onto the complexity of what we read. We are all behaving like luddites over the apostrophe, and I think it time that we let it go.

Let all the grocer's apostrophes return to the place of their making. Let me see no more signs advertising "Potatoe's". I will be happier!


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