I’m turning into a grumpy old woman. Or perhaps I’ve been one for ages without noticing and I’m only just becoming aware of how grumpy I can get. I used not to bother when people got apostrophes wrong; I refused to join a society for the preservation of the apostrophe; and I gently corrected my students. But now the misuse of apostrophes is annoying me so much that I’m beginning to think they should be abolished. Let me give you some examples that I’ve seen in the last few weeks. None of the following examples should have an apostrophe – they are all perfectly good plurals.
Shopkeepers are the primary source. I’ve seen potato’s, potatoe’s and even potatos’, cabbage’s, seedless grape’s and mango’s – and all of these have come from just two greengrocer’s. A local butcher has been advertising his wares: organic chicken’s and free-range egg’s. A newsagent has a notice ‘order your paper’s here’. Another shop proudly boasted ‘debt problem’s solved’. Yet another was advertising ‘second-hand fridge freezer’s and washing machine’s’. And finally, ‘Stoves, Fires and Fireplace’s’. That one amazes me: why would you get two plurals correct and decide the third one needs an apostrophe? But it’s not just shopkeepers. I went to a bird sanctuary the other day and read ‘it’s 10,000 mile journey’. I followed a van for a couple of miles that said ‘Working with local police force’s’. And a notice by the side of a road said ‘Water Main’s Rehabilitation’ – which I think means they are repairing the water pipes.
In the time that I’ve collected these, I’ve seen only one sign that didn’t have an apostrophe when it should have had: a fast food outlet called ‘Whats Cooking’.
A few months ago Birmingham City Council decided to get rid of all apostrophes in place names, a decision I thought stupid at the time. Their reasoning was that sometimes an apostrophe has been inserted on a street sign, sometimes not; so one area has signs that say either King’s Norton or Kings Norton, another either King’s Heath or Kings Heath, one road might be either St John’s Road or St Johns Road, and so on. In order to standardize this, all new signs will be made without apostrophes. And now I think I agree with them.
If we can’t get apostrophes right, let’s do what Birmingham is doing and get rid of them completely.Email this Post