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  • Bob McCalden

The Times view on an apostrophe row: What’s Not To Like?

Defenders of the apostrophe are right to admire this versatile linguistic device

The Times Leading Articles

Saturday November 18 2023, 12.01am, The Times

Theres nothing a pedant loves more than an ­opportunity to correct someone elses’ sloppy, omitted, or gratuitous apostrophe’s. But this is, of course, only because the apostrophe is so often ­casually misused, abused and neglected; it is therefore no surprise that enforcing its proper ­usage occupies most of the on-duty hours of the voluntary organisation referred to (among other names that might occur to one on the spur of the moment) as the grammar police.

Residents of Twyford, Hampshire, have had particularly just grounds to feel dispossessed of their apostrophes lately, after their local council’s adoption of a “no apostrophes” policy for new street signs. To widespread horror, “St Mary’s ­Terrace” became “St Marys Terrace”. Local authorities argued that omitting apostrophes was an innovation designed to make life easier for delivery drivers and emergency services. Apparently, apostrophes can confuse computer systems, and can be more tricky to input, not ideal when time is short.

Opponents pointed out that the signs being ­introduced were, strictly speaking, incorrect. Fortunately, after a year of campaigning, the pedants have successfully ended their council’s apostrophe apostasy. The use of apostrophes is a subject, as one councillor acknowledged, about which ­emotions can “run surprisingly high”. But apostrophes, like other punctuation marks, are important. They are formal devices for removing ambiguity, making written language more perspicuous than it is in its spoken form.

They also happen to be things of beauty. Their absence can jar with apostrophiles. Waterstones signs will forever be the poorer for the chain’s decision in 2012 to excise them, again in the interests of greater computer friendliness. When it comes to apostrophes, people are right to feel possessive.


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