On the naughty step - Conduct that deserves a ticking off

31st January 2014 at 00:00
This week: apostrophe abusers

One minute there are too many of them, the next there simply aren't enough.

We are all familiar with the grocer's apostrophe - an irritating and misplaced addition to a plural noun that enrages pedants the world over. There's nothing quite like pizza's, apple's or potatoe's to really get an English teacher's goat. The desire to cross out these ink spots of outrage leaves even relaxed people reaching for their red pens.

But now a worrying move in the other direction could leave these powerhouses of punctuation as an endangered species.

Officials in Cambridge have removed apostrophes from street signs when correct grammar dictates they should be there, "in order to reduce confusion to the emergency services".

No one is sure how turning "Pepys' Way" into "Pepys Way" helps a paramedic to your doorstep but it is making some people queasy. "They'll be taking our commas next," one said. Thankfully, a guerilla grammarian has been secretly filling in the missing apostrophes with black pen to restore harmony to the university town.

So, although apostrophes certainly raise blood pressure in schools (how many times do you have to explain the possessive to 13-year-olds?), it doesn't mean they're not a precious weapon in the fight for clear communication.

So, those who would deny the use of properly placed apostrophe's: get to the naughty step.

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