#88. Note the apostrophes. A few weeks ago the Birmingham City Council, in a fit of grammatical pique, banned apostrophes. A report in the Birmingham Post by Paul Dale said that “They’ve been a source of utter confusion to schoolchildren over the years. And it’s a brave adult who can be absolutely certain where to put the little beast.”
It went on to say: “After years spent arguing the finer points of whether Kings Heath should be King’s Heath, or even Kings’ Heath… local authority leaders have concluded the safest thing is not to bother at all.” This didn’t go down without a fight, a vote [90% of B Post readers said keep them] some song [Bobby Joe Beckley from Tennessee wrote a song called Apostrophe Apostasy in response] and dance, and an outcry from the Apostrophe Protection Society. Really. The Society, founded by John Richards, called the decision “absolute defeatism”. The Post reports that Richards’ [note correct use of apostrophe] website on the correct use of apostrophes has had over one million hits
Some even ventured to question what would happen next? Banning the full stop? The question mark?
The story made me think of Aubrey Tearle, South African fiction’s most memorable proofreader created by Ivan Vladislavic. In the novel The Restless Supermarket Tearle’s grammatical obsession stands in for his need for “order” in a world of chaos — the chaos being post-apartheid Hillbrow. The loss of the apostrophe and the “incorrect” use of language signify decay for him and a “lowering of standards”.
Like all things in Jo’burg – even the correct placement of apostrophes is loaded, although
… you will come to much less harm if someone points a sentence at you.