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  • Bob McCalden

We're in "The Times"!

I'm thrilled to see that I've been mentioned in "The Times" (a leading UK newspaper) today! The article may be behind a paywall, so I'll paste a shareable link and the entire article for non-subscribers to The Times.

Friday August 11 2023, 9.00pm, The Times

New apostrophe chief may find it’s a mugs’ game

An event that may not yet be enshrined in your diaries: Tuesday, August 15 is, I understand, International Apostrophe Day. This news comes hot from Bob McCalden, chairman of the Apostrophe Protection Society (APS), who emailed from Godalming in Surrey.

The APS, he says, “has the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this much abused punctuation mark in all forms of text written in the English language”. He suggests the event should appeal to readers of The Times “who might be tempted to include an apostrophe in plurals (popularly known as the greengrocer’s apostrophe), or stumble over how to include an apostrophe in units of time (two weeks’ holiday), or where to put the apostrophe in ‘its’ ”.

We’d never fall for such obvious man traps, would we? I’m not sure what activities the occasion will entail — guerrilla raids on mispunctuated billboards and road signs armed with white chalk and black markers? Or merely quiet reflection and a moment’s silence for a lost cause?

Four years ago we reported that John Richards, who previously held the society’s chair, had announced its demise. At the age of 96 and after 18 years of struggle, he announced that his campaigning days were over and that the barbarians (his word) had won. Our obituary, when he died two years later, quoted a favourite example with which he justified his life’s work: “The apostrophe plays a vital part in written English,” he said. “Just take the sign outside a block of flats: Residents’ refuse to be placed in bins. Remove the apostrophe and you see a very different notice.”

And now the cause has been revived in the hands of Bob McCalden. All strength to him. I was interested that Tuesday’s celebration is marked as “international”. Haven’t we got enough to contend with at home? Then I looked at X, or Twitter as was. Just in the past few days a judge in Texas has taken the time to add a style note to one of his judgments, in order to address what he calls “one of the burning legal questions of our generation”. Should it, he asked, be “attorney fees”, “attorneys fees”, “attorney’s fees”, or “attorneys’ fees”? The terms, he says, are used interchangeably, “nay promiscuously”, in federal statutes, rules and cases.

If this proves too tangled a web for the APS, perhaps they’d like to address the latest oddity from Donald Trump. Never one of our go-to sources of conventional spelling and punctuation, Trump nevertheless surpassed himself this week with “Liddle’ Mike Pence”, which has just been added to Wikipedia’s list of the unsalutary nicknames given by the former president to his political rivals. Moving swiftly past the fact that he can’t spell “little”, what on earth does that apostrophe signify?

We’ll never know, I suppose. In the meantime, here’s a question closer to home. What does the APS have to say about do’s and don’ts?


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