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  • Bob McCalden

All’s forgiven, apostrophe guardian tells Waterstones

The APS is back in The Times again! Here's the story published on 4 September 2023.


All’s forgiven, apostrophe guardian tells Waterstones

The battle against the aberrant apostrophe was rejoined when the punctuation purist Bob McCalden revived the Apostrophe Protection Society.

But in the battle against grammatical sloppiness, things have changed. And now, more than ten years after Waterstones enraged pedants everywhere by dropping the apostrophe from its name, it has been forgiven.

The bookshop chain, which was founded by Tim Waterstone, who was knighted in 2018, made the alteration in 2012 to make the spelling easier in the digital age.

Among those who were outraged by the decision was John Richards, head of the society, who died two years ago, aged 97. McCalden, 66, a former IT director from Godalming, Surrey, said: “John got terribly cross and wrote to everyone he could think of.”

Richards, a former journalist who founded the society in 2001, said at the time: “It’s just plain wrong. It’s grammatically incorrect. If Sainsbury’s and McDonald’s can get it right, then why can’t Waterstone’s?”

However, McCalden said: “Language changes. And that is exactly an area of language that changes. That is a brand name. And if Waterstone’s wanted to change their branding, that’s fine. That is their prerogative. There will be things that change like that that I am entirely comfortable with.

“If you go back 100 years to the invention of the telephone, people who abbreviated that to ’phone had better damn well put an apostrophe at the beginning of it. That has changed, and only a few very pedantic individuals would these days write an apostrophe with phone.”

Richards wound up the society in 2019 because “ignorance and laziness present in modern times” had defeated his mission. “The barbarians have won,” he said.

When Richards died, McCalden asked the late founder’s son whether he could revive the society. He gave his blessing and it was relaunched at the start of this year.

And no, the barbarians have not won. “My personal view is that they had worn him out. But it is a fight worth continuing. I think there are a lot of people out there who do care about the correct use of the English language and grammar and punctuation. It is very much worth continuing with the struggle.”

Among his pet hates are the confusion over “its” and “it’s” and the so-called greengrocer’s apostrophe, where the plural of apple becomes apple’s.

He said: “I have always been passionately interested in the English language. I guess it stems back to a very good English teacher at school.

“The area that annoys me most is with people and organisations that should know better, people who professionally should be getting their grammar and punctuation correct. This is particularly in product marketing and related areas.”

In one recent example a bottle of Marks & Spencer’s soda water proclaimed on its label: “Perfect on it’s own or as a mixer.”


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