Modern Australian

All hail apostrophes - the heavy lifters who 'point a sentence in the right direction'

  • Written by Roslyn Petelin, Course coordinator, The University of Queensland

Reports this week about the demise of the Apostrophe Protection Society may have been greatly exaggerated.

The Apostrophe Protection Society was set up in 2001 in the UK by retired journalist John Richards with the aim of “preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark in all forms of text written in the English Language”.

When I read that Richards had capitulated to the “ignorance and laziness” of those who wrongly used apostrophes, I toyed with the idea of resurrecting the society in Australia.

There may be no need. A six-fold increase in traffic to the website after the story broke caused the society’s webmaster to close the site down. He has promised to return the archive in the new year. Its survival is important. The apostrophe isn’t all that tricky to get your head around - and doing away with it won’t make language simpler.

All hail apostrophes - the heavy lifters who 'point a sentence in the right direction' Though many get it wrong, others’ contractions are so right. Patrick Tomasso/Unsplash, CC BY

Its - not it’s - big impact

British newspaper writer Harry Mount once wrote: “missing apostrophes is just ignorant and lazy”. He praised “the device that does so much with so little ink to point a sentence in the right direction”.

Richards’s desire to expel the intrusive greengrocer’s apostrophe (all those mango’s and tomato’s on special discount) mirrors that of Keith Waterhouse, the English columnist renowned as the author of classic comedy novel Billy Liar (1959) and Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell – a 1989 play about the musings of a London journalist and alcoholic who is locked overnight in The Coach & Horses Soho pub.

Waterhouse was the self-appointed life president of the (fictional) Association for the Annihilation (also Abolition) of the Aberrant Apostrophe and claimed to have an apostrophe incinerator in his back garden for superfluous apostrophes. His attendant goal was to redistribute ill-placed apostrophes to their rightful location.

Closer to home, the ABC’s Tiger Webb has previously dismissed the apostrophe. And I have responded with an argument for its preservation (with many fine examples).

We need apostrophes in the right places in examples such as this: “She’d wed him in a shed if we’d agree to it” when letters are left out. And for possession: the “ant’s pants” or the “ants’ pants” and likewise the “bee’s knees” or the “bees’ knees”.

Writers’ rules for writers

Driving along William Street in the Brisbane CBD in 1990, I was horrified to notice painters putting the finishing touches to the signage for the about-to-be-opened Queensland Writers’ Centre. It was without an apostrophe. A phone call to the committee soon corrected that oversight and the apostrophe was used for a while, though the battle was lost in later years.

It’s now known as the Queensland Writers Centre and it hosts the Brisbane Writers Festival each year.

The writers’ festivals held in Byron Bay, Canberra, Melbourne, Hobart, and Wollongong are also sans apostrophe. Their respective management committees must have reached an agreement that the word “writers” is used in a descriptive or affiliative sense rather than as a possessive adjective. Thank goodness the committees of the writers’ festivals held in Sydney, Adelaide, the Northern Territory, and the Outback held out.

Possession in place names has caused controversy in the UK and here.

The UK’s National Land and Property Gazetteer, which registers street names, doesn’t require apostrophes in new names, but the rule doesn’t apply to existing signs. Devon and Birmingham unilaterally disposed of the possessive in in all street and road signs in 2009, though the Devon council backtracked shortly after.

All hail apostrophes - the heavy lifters who 'point a sentence in the right direction' In the UK, many places have done away with apostrophes on signs. Shutterstock

South Australia has removed all apostrophes in place names. The policy of the NSW Geographic Names Board is to have no apostrophe in place names with a final “s”.

The Australian government’s Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers lists guidelines for other states and the Northern Territory. It’s worth noting the last printed edition of this manual was produced in 2002. A new digital guide to government-endorsed grammar has been promised. At the time it was announced, the digital manual’s product manager imagined a time when:

Clear written communication would be valued and personal preference wouldn’t be an option because there’d be one credible ‘source of truth’ that stated the rules and provided the evidence for why.

Statements like this bode well for its future, though “rules” about language aren’t always black or white. The guide is now in its Beta version and set for release in 2020.

Don’t get it twisted

Within the ranks of those who do subscribe to the possessive apostrophe, I can count on Richard Nordquist for his authoritative guidance and The Chicago Manual of Style for support.

Perhaps the most contentious apostrophe point is how to make singular words ending in “s” possessive. Is it “Dickens’ novels” or “Dickens’s novels”?

The Chicago Manual of Style advocates the extra “s” alternative in all cases, as do I. Even in cases such as “Descartes’s dicta” and “Euripides’s tragedies”.

Only use the contraction ‘it’s’ if it can be replaced by ‘it is’ or ‘it has’.

It is heartening to read related news that, whether or not John Richards’s apostrophe work continues, he might consider a campaign to save the comma from a similar fate.

“The use of the comma is appalling,” he told the BBC. “When I read some newspaper websites they just don’t understand what it is used for.”

This man, a punctuation champion in his 90s, is indomitable.

Authors: Roslyn Petelin, Course coordinator, The University of Queensland

Read more http://theconversation.com/all-hail-apostrophes-the-heavy-lifters-who-point-a-sentence-in-the-right-direction-128218

NEWS

Before we rush to rebuild after fires, we need to think about where and how

A primary school in East Gippsland was burnt down in the current bushfire crisis. While Premier Daniel Andrews immediately committed to rebuilding the school as it was, media reported the...

Australian sea lions are declining. Using drones to check their health can help us understand why

Australian sea lions (Neophoca cinerea) are one of the rarest pinnipeds in the world and they are declining.Jarrod Hodgson, CC BY-NDAustralian sea lions are in trouble. Their population has never...

With costs approaching $100 billion, the fires are Australia's costliest natural disaster

It’s hard to estimate the eventual economic cost of Australia’s 2019-20 megafires, partly because they are still underway, and partly because it is hard to know the cost to attribute...

In cases of cardiac arrest, time is everything. Community responders can save lives

Cardiac arrest can occur with little or no warning in people who were previously healthy, including young people.From shutterstock.comEach year more than 24,000 Australians experience a sudden cardiac arrest. This...

So the government gave sports grants to marginal seats. What happens now?

When Australians pay their income tax, they assume the money is going to areas of the community that need it, rather than being used by the government to shore up...

The Olympics have always been a platform for protest. Banning hand gestures and kneeling ignores their history

It is the year of the Tokyo Olympics, and the International Olympic Committee was quickly out of the blocks with new guidelines regarding athlete protests. The IOC is worried...

Catherine Hay Thomson, the Australian undercover journalist who went inside asylums and hospitals

Catherine Hay Thomson went undercover as an assistant nurse for her series on conditions at Melbourne Hospital. A. J. Campbell Collection/National Library of AustraliaIn this series, we look at under-acknowledged...

how fraudsters take advantage of those in need

Australians were also cheated out of A$400,000 last year in charity scams.Dean Lewins/AAPThere’s been an overwhelming outpouring of love and support around the world for those impacted by the bushfires...

To improve firefighters' mental health, we can't wait for them to reach out – we need to 'reach in'

Many firefighters will by now be exhausted, having been on the front line of Australia’s bushfire crisis for weeks or months. This bushfire season has been unrelenting, and the hottest...

'What subjects do I choose for my last years of school?'

Locking yourself into one career path too early may be risky.from shutterstock.comWe are being asked to do work experience this year, in a field we might like to work in...

the end of the checkout signals a dire future for those without the right skills

Shops checkouts are predicted to disappear this decade. Customers will be able to take what they want and walk out, with payment done automatically.www.shutterstock.comThere has already been a fair...

Take care when examining the economic impact of fires. GDP doesn't tell the full story

It is possible to calculate the impact impact of fires, but not using GDP.Shutterstock/Andrew Brownbilll/AAPEstimates of the economic damage caused by the bushfires are rolling in, some of them big...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

Embarrassed of your teeth? Here's what you can doWant to become a ballerina? Here's what you should know10 Signs You Are Obsessed with ShoppingArchitects and interior designers reveal what will shape the homes of a new decadeTips To Transform Your Bedroom With An Ecstatic ViewFive things to take when traveling to New ZealandBenefits of Cosmetic Surgery10 signs you're obsessed with cleaning5 Healthy Snacks To Bring To The OfficeExperts Think We Should Repair Items MoreIs Dental Floss Really That Useful? Dentists Weight InThings to keep out of your children reachTips To Maintain Your High-Quality CookwareTips for planning perfect picnic for new yearsBenefits of hiring a car for your vacation