[bksvol-discuss] OT: somewhat: Its a catastrophe for the apostrophe in Britain

  • From: Cindy Rosenthal <popularplace@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: bksvol-discuss@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, bookshare-discuss@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 2 Feb 2009 00:06:39 -0800 (PST)

I thought that perhaps those of you who have scanned
or proofread British or Australian publications and/or
who have read Lynn Truss's Eats, Shoots, and Leaves (a
most enjoyable book about punctuation that is in the
collection) would get a kick out of this article that
my brother sent to me.


Its a catastrophe for the apostrophe in Britain
Associated Press Writer

On the streets of Birmingham, the queen's English is
now the queens English.

England's second-largest city has decided to drop
apostrophes from all its street signs, saying they're
confusing and old-fashioned.

But some purists are downright possessive about the
punctuation mark.

It seems that Birmingham officials have been taking a
hammer to grammar for years, quietly dropping
apostrophes from street signs since the 1950s. Through
the decades, residents have frequently launched
spirited campaigns to restore the missing punctuation
to signs denoting such places as "St. Pauls Square" or
"Acocks Green."

This week, the council made it official, saying it was
banning the punctuation mark from signs in a bid to
end the dispute once and for all.

Councilor Martin Mullaney, who heads the city's
transport scrutiny committee, said he decided to act
after yet another interminable debate into whether
"Kings Heath," a Birmingham suburb, should be
rewritten with an apostrophe.

"I had to make a final decision on this," he said
Friday. "We keep debating apostrophes in meetings and
we have other things to do."

Mullaney hopes to stop public campaigns to restore the
apostrophe that would tell passers-by that "Kings
Heath" was once owned by the monarchy.

"Apostrophes denote possessions that are no longer
accurate, and are not needed," he said. "More
importantly, they confuse people. If I want to go to a
restaurant, I don't want to have an A-level (high
school diploma) in English to find it."

But grammarians say apostrophes enrich the English

"They are such sweet-looking things that play a
crucial role in the English language," said Marie
Clair of the Plain English Society, which campaigns
for the use of simple English. "It's always worth
taking the effort to understand them, instead of
ignoring them."

Mullaney claimed apostrophes confuse GPS units,
including those used by emergency services. But Jenny
Hodge, a spokeswoman for satellite navigation
equipment manufacturer TomTom, said most users of
their systems navigate through Britain's sometime
confusing streets by entering a postal code rather
than a street address.

She said that if someone preferred to use a street
name ? with or without an apostrophe ? punctuation
wouldn't be an issue. By the time the first few
letters of the street were entered, a list of matching
choices would pop up and the user would choose the

A test by The Associated Press backed this up. In a
search for London street St. Mary's Road, the name
popped up before the apostrophe had to be entered.

There is no national body responsible for regulating
place names in Britain. Its main mapping agency,
Ordnance Survey, which provides data for emergency
services, takes its information from local governments
and each one is free to decide how it uses

"If councils decide to add or drop an apostrophe to a
place name, we just update our data," said Ordnance
Survey spokesman Paul Beauchamp. "We've never heard of
any confusion arising from their existence."

To sticklers, a missing or misplaced apostrophe can be
a major offense.

British grammarians have railed for decades against
storekeepers' signs advertising the sale of "apple's
and pear's," or pubs offering "chip's and pea's."

In her best-selling book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves,"
Lynne Truss recorded her fury at the title of the Hugh
Grant-Sandra Bullock comedy "Two Weeks Notice,"
insisting it should be "Two Weeks' Notice."

"Those spineless types who talk about abolishing the
apostrophe are missing the point, and the pun is very
much intended," she wrote.




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