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Reborn Apostrophe Society ‘will never give up defending correct usage against barbarians’

The Sunday Telegraph interviewed me and published an article on 3 September 2023.


Reborn Apostrophe Society ‘will never give up defending correct usage against barbarians’

Like a phoenix from the ashes, the APS has been revived and hopes to battle the widespread misuse of the punctuation mark once more

The Apostrophe Protection Society has revived its grammar accuracy campaign, with the new chair vowing to continue the fight against incorrectly used punctuation.

When the former head of the APS, John Richards, retired at 96 after 18 years on the job, he said, “the barbarians have won.”

In Mr. Richards’ view, he had failed to safeguard the “threatened species” that is the apostrophe.

The APS was founded in 2001 but closed down in 2019 when he stepped back from duties.

But, like a phoenix from the ashes, it has been reborn and hopes to battle the widespread misuse of the punctuation mark once more.

In a memo sent out to its members on International Apostrophe Day, which was celebrated on August 15, the new chair said he hoped to “preserve the correct use of this much-abused punctuation mark in the written English language.”

Bob McCalden, 66, a former IT director, took over the helm in February 2023.

Mr. McCalden told The Telegraph: “I don’t believe the barbarians have won.

“They certainly warred John out in his time leading the good fight, but it’s very much a battle and education worth continuing. “I want to continue boosting a good understanding of accurate English across the world, with a particular focus on businesses which are professionally misusing language.

“Even big supermarkets get it wrong. Marks and Spencer recently used an incorrect apostrophe on its soda water. Things like this simply shouldn’t happen.” The label read “perfect on it’s own or as a mixer,” and the blunder remains on the Ocado website to this day. Mr. McCalden said: “This is not just an incorrect apostrophe; it’s an M&S incorrect apostrophe.

“Business and retail outlets are getting it wrong, and it’s not getting better.

“This suggests people are getting lazier and less careful about making sure that written English is correct.

“It is clear that standards are slipping.”

A cavalier approach

Mr. McCalden suspects the cavalier approach to punctuation on social media may be to blame for the decline in correct usage.

In becoming the chair of APS, he is “fulfilling a lifelong passion for grammar, punctuation, and particularly the apostrophe,” he said. He added that apostrophes in simple plurals such as “menu’s” make him cringe, and his pet hate is people using “its” and “it’s” erroneously.

He said: “People really struggle with it, and these mistakes leap out at me.”

After the previous chair died in 2021, Mr. McCalden contacted the family of Mr. Richards and acquired full ownership of the organisation.

He then “substantially revamped” the website so it provides a good overview of how to use apostrophes correctly and sends out regular updates to members on punctuation-related topics.

A recent memo was focused on apostrophes in road signs and Birmingham City Council’s campaign to remove them completely because it has repeatedly failed to use the punctuation mark accurately.

Updates will also include errors that members have spotted, and the APS will often contact companies to flag their mistakes.

Mr. McCalden said: “I’ll often include blunders and slip-ups in memos, and I particularly like to include errors where I’ve contacted the company and when they actually do something about it.”

Membership is currently at 800, with Mr. McCalden trying to raise awareness of the APS and hopes to see its membership snowball as more people become aware of its mission.

He added: “It is a battle which I intend to carry on fighting for the foreseeable future, although perhaps not as long as 96-year-old John.”

M&S and Birmingham City Council were contacted for comment.


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