Are the Apostrophe’s Days Numbered?

Lynne Truss, the author of “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” almost led a pedants uprising when she defended the correct use of the apostrophe against the onslaught of popular culture and an army of greengrocers, gents hairdressers and a host of others who regularly trip up when attempting to place the little tadpole in its rightful place. (Note the absence of the apostrophe in the possessive “its” in that sentence). She may well have to sound the call to arms again this week after Birmingham City Councils decision to abolish the pesky punctuation mark from all of its road signs, causing some locals to fret over whether the heath in Kings Heath had been the sole preserve of one very fortunate king or whether in fact it was a privilege afforded to successive kings. Any English teacher will tell you what a nightmare it is to teach the proper use of the apostrophe and many a pupil who, on learning about the little blighter for the first time, will sprinkle it liberally throughout a piece of writing whenever an “s” hoves into view. So is it time, as the writer Martin Amis argued over twenty years ago, to abandon the creature, relax and move on? Have your say by taking part in the online poll.

Incidentally, if you want to test your own knowledge try finding the four apostrophes which I have deliberately left out of this blog post!

8 thoughts on “Are the Apostrophe’s Days Numbered?

  1. Bill Boyd’s Literacy Adviser sans apostrophe? A Literacy Adviser belonging to Bill Boyd? Or a Literacy Adviser named Bill Boyds? As Nietzsche was often heard to say after a hard day’s revaluation of all values: ‘I’m away for a lie down’…

  2. Thanks to all who contributed to the poll on the future of the apostrophe. In the true nature of polls, online, political or otherwise, the result proves quite indecisive with 55% saying that it must be saved at all cost and 45% reckoning that it doesn’t much matter in the scheme of things. I suppose that means, for now at least, we need to keep trying to get it right!

  3. I have been trying hard teach good punctuation, without stifling creativity, for about 30 years as a primary school teacher. Hope some of it was absorbedl but really feel up against it now when facing the text speak creeping in to formal writing. Not sure where this will end but I feel there is a place for both. Language is so challenging!

  4. Sally – if you’re the Sally I think you are great to hear from you! Great to hear from you anyway even if you aren’t. I know exactly what you mean. It’s still kind of important but you wonder if the battle has been lost. I don’t know about you but I use text quite often (and Twitter- same thing really) but even then I tend to use a semi-formal style. As far as teaching young people is concerned for me the important thing is to foster an interest in language. The ability to understand the distinction between formal and informal is still I think a sign of succesful learning.

  5. Yes, a fellow Minniboler and ex pupil of Mr Bates at Carrick Academy. “Right then 1A, it’s Dubber today!” was his war cry, met by groans all round. But I do know about punctuation! Pity I didn’t learn to touch type though. Would save a few embarrassing typos. Must also learn to re-read work or not Twitter after a large glass of red!
    Keep up the good work.

  6. Ah Sally! Basher Bates – probably the single reason I became an English teacher. However, brilliant teacher or not, he still had to use the belt occasionally or at least the threat of it to control those among us who wouldn’t have known the difference between a subordinate clause and a barn door. It certainly didn’t do us any harm as the old cliche goes but literacy is going to mean something quite different for 21C kids.

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