Lots of talk on the interweb about the poor old apostrophe. Apparently Waterstone’s are going to phase theirs out. Let me nail my colours to the mast straight away – I LOVE apostrophes!
The apostrophe is probably the most misunderstood and misused piece of punctuation in the English language, but it’s fundamental to making our work comprehensible.
Lynne Truss, in her seminal work about English punctuation ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’, mentions her ‘inner stickler’ who rails against the incorrect use of the apostrophe. Me too – although I appreciate that I can come across as rather pedantic whenever I bring it up. Eyes glaze over; people start humming snatches of ‘Here I go again’. Do I care? No.
I suppose it’s a measure of how difficult some people find the whole apostrophe thing, that Waterstone’s feel they can manage without it. But I want to see our beautiful language expressed in the way it was intended, with any misunderstandings neatly avoided by the correct use of punctuation. I don’t get people who say that it doesn’t matter. Of course it matters.
Kingsley Amis, when he was asked to provide a sentence to illustrate the use of the apostrophe, came up with this:
- Those things over there are my husband’s. (Those things over there belong to my husband.)
- Those things over there are my husbands’. (Those things over there belong to several husbands of mine.)
- Those things over there are my husbands. (I’m married to those men over there.)
I had a bit of an epiphany the other day when I had to send a text on my partner’s mobile phone. I’m of the generation that is still catching up with these inventions and I much prefer my less advanced and therefore less complicated model. I even use punctuation when texting, and I struggled with this phone, to the point that I abandoned all attempts at finding apostrophes. I didn’t like sending a message sans punctuation, but it was the easiest thing to do.
I suddenly realised why punctuation is dying out……