18 January 2014

Apostrocide

I took the following picture in Denby Dale last autumn but not because I was going in there to have my hair and beauty attended to. No there was another reason. Look closely at the sign.

Yes, that's right. There's an errant apostrophe between the "o" and the final "s". What was the signmaker thinking of? Or perhaps he blindly obeyed the owner's instruction.

Given my decades as an English teacher, I have a very keen eye for errors - either in spelling or punctuation. The apostrophe is widely abused - either missing from places where it should be or, as in this case, inserted where it isn't needed. There are a lot of careless people out there.

But what is the solution? Perhaps abusers and misusers  of the apostrophe should have their mistakes pointed out to them and perhaps schoolchildren should be better schooled with regard to basic accuracy. However, that would not be the response of Cambridge City Council. Their incredible response to the apostrophe malaise is to ban all apostrophes from their street signage. You can read about it here.

The city of Cambridge is renown the world over for the quality of higher education available in its famous colleges but here's an example of Cambridge City Council's official apostrophe  policy in action:-
The apostrophe isn't some kind of fancy and unnecessary embellishment. It clarifies meaning. Regarding the image above, we might ask ourselves if this lane was named after one scholar or a number of scholars. The presence of an apostrophe after the "r" or floating after the "s" would have made that history clear.

If we let the apostrophe go and send out a message to school pupils that apostrophes don't really matter, what will go next? Shall we let them believe that questions don't need question marks? Shall we allow them to write proper names without capitals or sentences without full stops? Will we let them turn "you" into textspeak "u"? 

You could call it pedantry but I have always believed that there is a symbiotic relationship between accurate written expression and clear thinking. You can't have one without the other and furthermore, in my ever so 'umble opinion, Cambridge City Council deserves to have its (not it's) ignorant knuckles rapped. For Harry and for England - Long Live The Apostrophe!

27 comments:

  1. "Dumbing down." Thats what it is over here. We cant teach our kids the right way any more and have it stick in their brains, so we lower everybody to the least common denominator. Its just despicable! Shame on us and shame on Cambridge!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right MT. It's "dumbing down" - the easy option instead of "raising up" or defending the line - more challenging and yet surely the righteous options.

      Delete
    2. I couldn't agree more!

      Delete
  2. Shame on Cambridge indeed - leading my son astray while he's there!
    I think maybe the signwriter meant to write 'Hair and Beauty Studio's Shopfront' and ran out of space.
    The street sign should have read 'Scholars Walk This Way', with a small cartoon of a swaggering student, showing how the perpetual swagger can lead to a nasty disability known as Pepys Court.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! Ha! Very droll JR! Instead of Cambridge you should have sent him to the University of Wolverhampton or Cranfield University where apostrophes are treasured like precious jewels.

      Delete
  3. I would enjoy my walks armed with a permanent marker pen...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will join you. We will sneak out at night wearing balaclava's <- deliberate error! W'e migh't nee'd som'e correctio'n flui'd a's we'll.

      Delete
  4. Do you read Frances Garrood's blog? If not, let me point you to her post "Save the apostrophe":
    http://francesgarrood.blogspot.de/2013/03/save-apostrophe.html

    I agree with you 100 % on the relationship between clear thinking and accurate written expression. Of course, me not being a native English speaker (or writer), I am bound to make the odd mistake (as I will make in my native tongue as well), but I do recognize the importance of correct ortography, grammar and punctuation - for clearness, not for being a stickler when it comes to rules.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hell, you write so brilliantly in English Librarian. It is hard to believe that English isn't your first language. Thanks for the link to Frances Garrood's blog. I went there and read the post you highlighted.

      Delete
  5. It's pretty easy to tell a non-native speaker, or a mistake induced by a smart phone. The fact is, English is not being taught very well in our public schools. None of my mother's 7 brothers or sisters went on to college, but they could all spell and write. One of my son's friends, who is in college getting her master's degree, spells "wheat" as "weat," and never met an apostrophe or comma she knows how to use. My son is dyslexic and has a legitimate excuse, but he writes and spells fairly well because his mother kept him home during his high school years and insisted he learn. I worked in the public school system for 15 years and have no confidence in it. I know many, many teachers who are qualified and enthusiastic, and if they ran their own small schools with a dozen pupils, I would have sent my kid to them in a minute. They are so micro-managed they can't do their jobs.

    I'd like to join that correction brigade. It might be more satisfying to blow the misplaced punctuation away with shotgun, though. Or whatever Hippo has in his arsenal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Never heard of the old saying Jan - "The felt tip marker pen is mightier than the Californian hunting rifle"?

      Delete
  6. It's a common problem over here too in Catalan, with loads of mistakes creeping in, even in public documents and from people "who should know better". Seems to be a case of giving in, and just admitting anything goes.
    I'm 100% with you, a real stickler for correct use of the language. A couple of years ago a book about it became quite popular - maybe you've read it, Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I have read that book Brian. Lynne Truss's passion for accuracy confirmed there are reasons for such passion. It's not highfalutin pedantry.

      Delete
  7. It's funny how the apostrophe is murdered so often. It's not a complicated set of rules.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You a're righ't R'ed. How ca'n anybod'y ma'ke mistake's with apostrophe's?

      Delete
  8. It is an indicator of the laziness of the education system and those in it in front of the teacher and, unfortunately, in the case of some teachers I know, in their ignorance of the use of the English language as well. It is also more difficult for non-native speakers to translate that which is not grammatically correct.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I knew and worked with many teachers whose command of the written word was tenuous. I must stress that none of these people were English teachers. They taught other things - often with great success - such as ICT, Woodwork, PE. Mathematics, Science or "Food Technology" (Cooking).

      Delete
    2. I happen to know how to use the odd apostrophe correctly ~ and I also know how to spell ICT and PE.

      Delete
  9. As an apostrophile myself, I agree with you entirely, but a few questions regarding the signs in Cambridge. If we believe the example should read Scholar's or Scholars' Walk, should it be Pepys' or Pepys's Court? And should Fitzgerald Place be renamed Fitzgerald's Place? In other words, does the walk, court and place belong to the scholar or scholars, Pepys and Fitzgerald or have those nouns become adjectives?

    Cambridge Council might have a point!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cambridge Council need a point - preferably at the end of a wooden fencepost.

      Delete
  10. Even ex-convicts can get it right:

    http://helsieshappenings.blogspot.com/2014/01/surviving-heat.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is politically incorrect to refer to Australians as "ex-convicts"! Your insensitivity is astonishing. Helen. Lee or Carol from Cairns could be very hurt by such remarks. Bad boy Rhino!

      Delete
    2. Yes, I take exception to being called EX anything ~ the less politically correct thing would be to just call us convicts.

      Delete
  11. As another retired English teacher, I'm appalled on an almost daily basis by the new use of apostrophes to indicate the plural.
    Also, imagine the money people spend to put up a six foot sign or larger that is grammatically incorrect. Maybe we just need to round up all the sign makers for a remedial course in punctuation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not a remedial course they need, it's medieval torture!...Or should I say torture's!

      Delete
  12. Have you seen the sign for "Cornish Pasty's " on the green van????

    ReplyDelete
  13. whilst i've nivver worried too much about capitalisation i do think apostrophes should be used correctly but often when i've corrected someone they've taken the suggestion as a personal affront which is disheartening.

    ReplyDelete

Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.