Write Stuff – Please don’t Eat the Apostrophes

What’s that you say? Nobody cares about grammar and punctuation anymore? Maybe not on your street, but if you happen to wander down a leafy lane in certain UK towns, you’d better keep your wits about you. Another district council has officially banned the apostrophe on their street signs, and the move has plenty of people seeing red.

The Mid-Devon District Council announced the ban recently, and the main reason seems to be that apostrophes might cause confusion. That was the same logic given when another council, Preston City Council, banned apostrophes on their own street signs back in 2009. Keeping the little black possessive mark in St. Paul’s Square would, apparently, have caused ?confusion among residents, and also increase[d] the risk of inconsistency and error,? as The Telegraph reported.

I suspect, though, that It’s not the confusion That’s the problem. Rather, It’s all the time and money the confusion is costing. When a concerned resident calls in to complain that an apostrophe is missing (or should be hauled away to the apostrophe junk heap), councils have to make a decision. That takes time and taxpayers? money. How much time? Enough that one councillor in Birmingham reported they were ?constantly getting residents asking for apostrophes to be put back in.?

But the Mid-Devon apostrophes weren’t about to be wiped into oblivion without a fight. The Plain English Campaign leapt to their defence and convinced the council to rethink the ban. As founder Chrissie Maher notes on the Plain English site, ?You do have to question the good sense of anyone who thinks that confusion can be avoided by messing around with the rules of our language.?

If you fall into the camp that thinks It’s much ado about nothing, you might want to ponder this over your next meal: a missing apostrophe could mean all the difference between fine dining and cannibalism, as a couple of examples from The Telegraph show.

The first one is harmless: ?don’t worry about dinner, I’ll eat our son’s.? The second is a lot more worrisome: ?don’t worry about dinner, I’ll eat our sons.?

It’s all in jest to a point, but the apostrophe agitation is a good reminder that we use language to get our message across. To make ourselves understood. And that means following certain rules to avoid communication bedlam. Otherwise, we’re all just making up our own rules as we go, with sons, son’s, and s?ons all meaning the same thing?depending on who’s scribbling that note about dinner and whether or not they’re a cannibal.

To avoid being the wrong kind of potluck guest?and to learn more about this useful little punctuation mark?check out The Apostrophe Protection Society website. Just don’t eat the apostrophes. You might be needing them later.

S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).

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