It’s good to know that people other than Americans can elect or appoint absolute morons to political office. Here, for example, is Martin Mullaney, councilor in Birmingham (UK) and head of that city’s “transport scrutiny committee,” on why Birmingham is eliminating apostrophes from its signage: “they confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don’t want to have an A-level in English to find it.” For those who don’t speak British, an “A-level” is roughly equivalent to high school (except in Britain, it usually means you can actually read).
This is mind-boggling. One does not need a high-school degree to comprehend the use of apostrophes. I do not understand why people find them so confusing. (At the bottom of this post, isolated so as not to bore those of you who do know how to use them, is a brief guide to correct apostrophe usage.) The other reasons Mullaney adduces for coshing grammar on the head in Birmingham are equally ludicrous: apostrophes confuse GPS systems and cause people and emergency services to get lost (no, they don’t, as the article points out…Mullaney clearly is not a member of the reality-based community), and they are “old-fashioned.”
All hail the modern illiteracy!
While it’s true that names like “St. Paul’s Square” have a slightly fusty (and, to Americans, very British) air, so what? Shall we rename them all as “InterCorporate Way” to be all modern and entrepreneurial?
Sadly, apostrophes’ defenders are presented as if they’re little old blue-haired ladies fussing over seventeen cats and condemning “strong language” such as “gosh-darned.” I suppose there are more important things in the world – but why encourage further ignorance and illiteracy?
(How to use apostrophes: 1. In contractions, to denote missing letters, as in “don’t” for “do not,” “let’s” for “let us,” “it’s” (only!) for “it is,” etc. 2. To denote possession: the object that “possesses” receives an apostrophe followed by an “s” in most cases: the ball of the dog = the dog’s ball. If the possessor is plural and ends in an -s, simply append an apostrophe: of a group of politicians, the politicians’ idiocy. Some hold that if a singular noun or name ends in -s, only an apostrophe is sufficient, while others argue that -‘s is still required. The second option is certainly not wrong, so err on the safe side. 3. Other uses: here’s where confusion arises, I think. The main vector of confusion re apostrophes is “it’s/its”: possessive pronouns do not use apostrophes, even though some of them end in -s and otherwise look like the sort of word formed by adding an apostrophe and an “s.” But this confusion is easily clarified: “it’s” is always “it is” – remember that, and you’re good. Also: some use apostrophes to pluralize letters or numerals or capitalized abbreviations (i.e., “he has 1,000 CD’s”). The second, at least, is pointless.)