2.01.2009

say it aint so!

The whole world is adding apostrophes where they aren't needed. Tire's for sale, hundred's of item's available, the Liberal Party announces it's decision. (Wrong, wrong, wrong.)

But the city of Birmingham, England, is going in the other direction.
Its a catastrophe for the apostrophe in Britain

On the streets of Birmingham, the queen's English is now the queens English.

England's second-largest city has decided to drop apostrophes from all its street signs, saying they're confusing and old-fashioned.

But some purists are downright possessive about the punctuation mark.

It seems that Birmingham officials have been taking a hammer to grammar for years, quietly dropping apostrophes from street signs since the 1950s. Through the decades, residents have frequently launched spirited campaigns to restore the missing punctuation to signs denoting such places as "St. Pauls Square" or "Acocks Green."

This week, the council made it official, saying it was banning the punctuation mark from signs in a bid to end the dispute once and for all.

Councilor Martin Mullaney, who heads the city's transport scrutiny committee, said he decided to act after yet another interminable debate into whether "Kings Heath," a Birmingham suburb, should be rewritten with an apostrophe.

"I had to make a final decision on this," he said Friday. "We keep debating apostrophes in meetings and we have other things to do."

Mullaney hopes to stop public campaigns to restore the apostrophe that would tell passers-by that "Kings Heath" was once owned by the monarchy.

"Apostrophes denote possessions that are no longer accurate, and are not needed," he said. "More importantly, they confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don't want to have an A-level (high school diploma) in English to find it."

But grammarians say apostrophes enrich the English language.

"They are such sweet-looking things that play a crucial role in the English language," said Marie Clair of the Plain English Society, which campaigns for the use of simple English. "It's always worth taking the effort to understand them, instead of ignoring them."

Mullaney claimed apostrophes confuse GPS units, including those used by emergency services. But Jenny Hodge, a spokeswoman for satellite navigation equipment manufacturer TomTom, said most users of their systems navigate through Britain's sometime confusing streets by entering a postal code rather than a street address.

She said that if someone preferred to use a street name — with or without an apostrophe — punctuation wouldn't be an issue. By the time the first few letters of the street were entered, a list of matching choices would pop up and the user would choose the destination.

A test by The Associated Press backed this up. In a search for London street St. Mary's Road, the name popped up before the apostrophe had to be entered.

There is no national body responsible for regulating place names in Britain. Its main mapping agency, Ordnance Survey, which provides data for emergency services, takes its information from local governments and each one is free to decide how it uses punctuation.

"If councils decide to add or drop an apostrophe to a place name, we just update our data," said Ordnance Survey spokesman Paul Beauchamp. "We've never heard of any confusion arising from their existence."

To sticklers, a missing or misplaced apostrophe can be a major offense.

British grammarians have railed for decades against storekeepers' signs advertising the sale of "apple's and pear's," or pubs offering "chip's and pea's."
[Emphasis added.]

In her best-selling book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," Lynne Truss recorded her fury at the title of the Hugh Grant-Sandra Bullock comedy "Two Weeks Notice," insisting it should be "Two Weeks' Notice."

"Those spineless types who talk about abolishing the apostrophe are missing the point, and the pun is very much intended," she wrote.

Sticklers? Sticklers??? Using correct punctuation makes one a stickler? Grrrr.

[Thanks to Frederick for thinking of me when he saw this story.]

23 comments:

Sarah Gates said...

Proud stickler, right here.

redsock said...

See also:

The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks
&
apostrophe abuse

Chrystal Ocean said...

I hear there's been a run on magic markers.

Economic stimulus!

M@ said...

I've probably posted this here before, but maybe some people haven't seen it.

Bob's Quick Guide to the Apostrophe, You Idiots

Warms this lil' stickler's heart.

L-girl said...

You know, after I posted something about cliches I am sick of seeing on blogs, certain bloggers took offense and slammed me for it, both here and on their own blogs.

I recently learned I am remembered for this - it was used as a bit of snark against me in comments on another blog. (What are you doing here anyway, L-girl? Aren't we beneath your standards?)

Because of that, my post "wmtc grammar and spelling class is now in session" remains in drafts. Not because I am sensitive to being slammed for what I write, but b/c I'm not trying to be mean or offend people, and if it's causing real offense to other progressive bloggers, it's not worth it.

But of course I've continued to be horrified by mistakes I see when skimming headlines at Progressive Bloggers - including in post titles! To, too, two - their, there, they're - and of course its and it's.

We all make mistakes when we type - I will frequently write the wrong here/hear or won/one. But that's why we read over what we write before posting!

The stuff that people post - and stick with - amazes me.

L-girl said...

Love the cartoon, M@!

deang said...

I just got through reading an otherwise good book in which one of the people is named Hes (short for Hester). For the possessive, the author just added an apostrophe: Hes'. It should be Hes's, so it angered me every time I came across it.

Several years ago, I worked in an office next to an auditorium that was rented out by various groups for meetings. I could overhear most of what was said in the meetings, and one of them was of secondary school administrators and teachers. The topic of declining spelling ability and grammatical knowledge came up, and I was appalled to hear several of the attendees say that it didn't matter. One said that "the kids are ahead of the adults on this. They know what direction things are going with language on the web."

As someone with some linguistics background, I am aware that language changes, but grammatical and punctuation rules were put in place for clarity. I foresee a time in the near future when everyone will spell things their own way and reading it will be like reading English colonists' letters from the 16th century, with several accepted ways to spell a word, no spelling distinctions for homonyms, etc.

L-girl said...

As someone with some linguistics background, I am aware that language changes, but grammatical and punctuation rules were put in place for clarity. I foresee a time in the near future when everyone will spell things their own way and reading it will be like reading English colonists' letters from the 16th century, with several accepted ways to spell a word, no spelling distinctions for homonyms, etc.

I've thought about this, too, especially when I read The Diary of Samuel Pepys online, written at a time before spelling was standardized. I've wondered if that's where we're going.

I know that language is always evolving, but written language usually changes more slowly than spoken... but these days when everyone is writing (online, in emails, in txt msgs), that may no longer be true.

impudent strumpet said...

It would be interesting to see how that affects ESL speakers. We either recently have or are just about to hit the threshold where more people speak English as a foreign language than as a mother tongue (and this largely because of the influence of English on the internet), and things like misused apostrophes and mixed up homophones are particularly difficult for non-native speakers. Often it's not at all apparent to them what the original author intended.

opit said...

The Apostrophe Police have had their work cut out for them for years. Even in this comment thread I see useage that flies in the face of what I learned.
The ' possessive may or may not be followed by an s depending on the sense to be conveyed and the sound involved - a little thing about Spoken English and writing indicating proper sound to be used having priority in establishing written practice.
I'm thinking of multiple s'es and ugly hissing sounds needed to replicate notation orally. What about after a z?
So - if a word ends in s it doesn't usually need another - not even to denote a plural.
Do we have a 'go' for disputation ?

Jere said...

This is one step closer to:

"We're just going to make 2 + 2 = 5 because it looks a little better and besides, everyone thinks that's the answer anyway."

Have you seen the movie Idiocracy? The one mistake Mike Judge made was putting that world of idiots too far in the future. It's right around the corner.

L-girl said...

things like misused apostrophes and mixed up homophones are particularly difficult for non-native speakers.

Oo I'm glad you brought that up, because I forgot to. I always put a non-native speaker in a different mental category when it comes to apostrophes.

It's really only when I see presumably native speakers of English do it that it drives me nuts.

L-girl said...

OK, not only. The other time it drives me nuts is on professionally made signs. Or sign's, as the case may be.

I always think - incorrectly, it seems - that professional sign makers should be able to get it right, because that's their job.

L-girl said...

Do we have a 'go' for disputation?

Geez, I don't even know what your question means.

What do you see in this thread that goes against what you are taught?

I know there are varying views of s' and s's. I go with AP style. Since that's what I have to do for my writing, that's what I do throughout.

L-girl said...

It's right around the corner.

Around the corner? You're optimistic! I think it's here.

But simple math like 2+2 is unchanging. Language does change - constantly. The meaning of words is not static. Spelling is not static. Grammar is not static. Never has been and never will be.

That doesn't mean I will stop caring about grammar and punctuation. But we have to be aware that what is correct now was not necessarily correct 100 years ago, and won't necessarily be correct 50 years from now.

L-girl said...

The Apostrophe Police have had their work cut out for them for years.

This is very true! Long ago, before digital cameras, before the internet, Allan and I wanted to do a magazine story where we'd go around the city taking pictures of signs - professionally made signs - with bad spelling, grammar and punctuation.

It was too difficult to get going. These days we would just start a blog!

Our idea started with this sign for a Chinese restaurant:

FRIST WOK

Another fave was this sign outside a deli:

BOARD'S HEAD HAM

I think only USians will get that one. I don't think they have the would-be brand in Canada.

JakeNCC said...

This discussion reminds me of the introduction of bill 101 in Quebec when signs in Montreal had their "'s" painted over or signs parts taken down. Often the the "'s" had been taken down but had left an imprint. Those were strange times but probably necessary to maintain the French language in Canada.

Jere said...

"But simple math like 2+2 is unchanging. Language does change - constantly. The meaning of words is not static. Spelling is not static. Grammar is not static. Never has been and never will be. But we have to be aware that what is correct now was not necessarily correct 100 years ago, and won't necessarily be correct 50 years from now."

But it seems like the same thing as math to me: It + is = it's. The apostrophe means something. How could that ever change?

L-girl said...

The apostrophe means something. How could that ever change?

I agree, but perhaps people felt that way when (eg) "physique" no longer meant something you drank to cure constipation. Or there were no longer two types of the letter S. (You know, the S that looks like an F in the old colonial-era documents?)

Jere said...

We'll have to have a congreffional hearing about it.

But aren't those things closer to, say, whether or not to put commas every three places in a long number? It doesn't change the value of the number if you take the commas out, but taking the apostrophe out changes the meaning of the written word.

L-girl said...

Hm, I'm not sure I see the distinction. When I read Pepys, I'm often surprised by how many words had the opposite meaning in the 17th C from what they mean now. Over time, some words came to mean its complete opposite.

I'm figuring at some point it was incorrect useage, then became correct.

Mara Clarke said...

So who will explain to me why in London the District Line train stops at both "Earl's Court" and "Barons Court"? Is it becuase the Earl owned the court and there were lots of Barons? I find it doubtful . . .

And speaking of Brits and apostrophes, don't get me started on Brits and commas. They are comma crazy here. Drives me nuts.

L-girl said...

They are comma crazy here. Drives me nuts.

Example, please?

* * * *

Speaking of how spelling changes, in Canada they use a lot of hyphenation that is used in the UK but not in the US. No-one, trade-mark, co-ordinator - hyphenated in Canada, not in US.