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Friday, Dec 13, 2019

‘Ignorance and laziness won’: Apostrophe society shuts down after 18 years

Convinced that he could no longer ignore the apostrophe’s misuse, he set up the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001. He found hundreds of supporters from across the globe, but has now decided to close the society.

world Updated: Dec 02, 2019 16:09 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Many ignore the incorrect use of the apostrophe, but it irritates some enough to focus their energies on encouraging people to use it correctly.
Many ignore the incorrect use of the apostrophe, but it irritates some enough to focus their energies on encouraging people to use it correctly.
         

Many ignore the incorrect use of the apostrophe, but it irritates some enough to focus their energies on encouraging people to use it correctly – a former British journalist did just that, but when 18 years of exertions proved futile, he has put a full stop.

John Richards spent his working life as a reporter and sub-editor, amazed how often reporters, especially the younger ones, seemed to have no idea of the correct use of what he calls “this very useful little device”. After retirement, he found similar errors everywhere.

Convinced that he could no longer ignore the apostrophe’s misuse, he set up the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001. He found hundreds of supporters from across the globe, but has now decided to close the society.

He writes: “With regret I have to announce that, after some 18 years, I have decided to close the Apostrophe Protection Society. There are two reasons for this”.

“One is that at 96 I am cutting back on my commitments and the second is that fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English language”.

“We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won”.

Some say only a journalist and sub-editor of an older generation could be so pedantic in the age of auto-correct and voice-to-text software, but the English language has faced some challenge in its home, forcing grammar vigilantes to literally take to the streets.

One such vigilante recently hit the headlines for quietly correcting signs in public places in the dead of the night, removing extraneous apostrophes. He has been called the ‘Banksy of apostrophes’, after the iconic graffiti artist linked to the southwest English town of Bristol.

He remains unidentified, but told BBC that he worked in the engineering sector. He was filmed going around Bristol with tools, tidying up punctuation on shop and street signs. One of the signs he corrected was ‘Amys Nail’s’, because he thought it was “gross”.

He said: “It was so loud and in your face. I just couldn’t abide it. It grates”; another correction was to ‘Cambridge Motor’s’. I’m a grammar vigilante...I do think it’s a cause worth pursuing”, he said, adding that he corrected the first sign in 2003.

“It was a (Bristol City) council sign – Mondays to Fridays – and had these ridiculous apostrophes. I was able to scratch those off,” insisting that his work does not amount to a crime, adding: “It’s more of a crime to have the apostrophes wrong”.

This is not the first time bad grammar in English is making news in England. There is the quirky ‘Bad Grammar Award’ instituted by the ‘Idler’ magazine to highlight “the incorrect use of English by people and institutions who should know better”.