Seems that since the 1950’s, apostrophes have been dropping from Britains (uh ‘scuse me) Britain’s street signs. And now Birmingham, England’s second-largest city, is officially banning the apostrophe from all its street signs. Why? According to AP reporter, Meera Selva, they’re “confusing and old-fashioned.” Ah the poor misused, maligned and misunderstood apostrophe.
If you want to read a really good piece on the history of this wee mark, read How the Past Affects the Future: The Story of the Apostrophe. Seems it’s had its users up in arms from the start.
The apostrophe had its origins in the Greek word “apostrephein” which means “to turn away” and was a “rhetorical device in which a speaker turned from the audience to address another person.” Eventually the term came to refer to something that was missing.
I like the little guy. It matters. It lends clarity. It’s a litmus test winnowing those who know and care about language from those who don’t. Yet I learned that even G.B. Shaw refused to use the apostrophe in any of his plays; no one can challenge his skill with the quill.
The authors of the aforementioned History predict that as we move increasingly to electronic communication, which favors speed over careful composition of the English language, keyboard makers will eventually drop the apostrophe altogether, leaving us to gather meaning from context alone. Where will that leave our right pinky? Flailing impotently every time we write about the bells of hell or the lane of lovers? What might take its place — a smiley face emoticon?
I can imagine a future conversation with a grandchild — “Yes, sweetie, before you were born keyboards came with a little squiggle called an ‘apostrophe.’ It had many jobs — replacing missing letters in a contraction; indicating not one, but three kinds of possession; showing a quote within a quote. It even had a job for visual esthetics but that one, too, began to fade toward the late 1990’s. It’s a new world, now. No apostrophes.”
And shell likely wonder, “Whats the big deal?”
I still have a hard time whenever I write “Publishers Weekly” not putting in the apostrophe I feel really should go there. But they do use it so I resist.
I meant they don’t use it. Geez. Wishful thinking on my part…
Youre a wonderful writer. Its a pleasure reading your essays.
Great post, Debra! Gosh, I would miss the apostrophe too. It makes me sad — the way our language is falling down the slang tube. Another example you’ll appreciate: The editors of a blog I post for regularly recently told us to AVOID using metaphor or to be poetic in any way. They practically came out and said, “Don’t bother to try to write well. Write badly, write the way people usually talk …” It really put a damper on things for me.
Ha ha ha ha … just caught Martins comment and its making me laugh, its so funny!
AVOID using metaphor and poetry????? What heathens! Newspapers of old were at least good for fish wrapping. Of what use will be such blog posts, bleached of any and all creativity? Shrouds they are, shrouds enveloping our English language!
Glad you caught Martins comment. Hes a great one!
Its Iriss turn –
Youve done it again, Debra. Heres a hug for wits sake. Personally, I think its a shame weve gone down slangs tube (think Cindys right on). Sadly, its a writers prerogative.
What is the world coming to? My gosh! No apostrophes. Being told to write badly. No wonder so many non-writers are getting jobs as writers and getting attention for blogs and getting book deals. Sad.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Cindy’s experience, being instructed to do away with metaphor and richness.
My son made a very interesting comment today — we are outsourcing so much of our brains — our phones now know our friends’ telephone numbers; GPS tells us how to get places. And for children on video games (notice the locution ‘children on video games’ as in hooked on drugs) parents are outsourcing their children’s imagination and creativity.
Terrific book on just this topic — The Case for Make Believe by Susan Linn. A frightening indictment of how corporations and toy companies are teaming up. The result — the death of a child’s creativity and imagination.
Thank you all for keeping the conversation going. The implications are enormous.