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Byron Shire
December 2, 2022

Apple’s, apostrophes and onion’s

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The Apostrophe Protection Society, founded in 2001, has announced its end.

‘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!’

Yes, it’s ending. Its Protection Society has closed down because the apostrophe itself is near its end. It’s a cryin’ shame.

Personally I do weep. Such a useful little diacritic critter to help make meaning plain. It has been used with relative consistency since the middle of the nineteenth century to indicate a missing letter, or some kind of possession.

Surveys have shown that fewer than five out of ten people can use the apostrophe correctly, and of those who cannot, many are employed as subeditors in our daily newspapers. In fact ignorance of the apostrophe is a requisite to work for online news sites.

But it’s puzzling how anyone can get its usage wrong. All you have to do is concentrate for a few seconds and ask yourself, am I saying a shortened version of it is or it has or am I using the word its in its other meaning of belonging to it? It’s not rocket science, or its equivalent, brain surgery.

For over a hundred and fifty years all our printed texts, even newspapers until recently, have used orthography to distinguish the meaning of words that in speech sound the same. No wonder the apostrophe is on its last legs: distinctions in meaning are not popular in the age of fake news and ‘how goodery’.

Now that the apostrophe’s staunchest defenders have thrown in the towel, I believe it’s time for us all to do the same. Let’s abolish the apostrophe, and spell everything just as it sounds. This would be helpful to all learners and users of English.

Better still, let’s not have an agreed standard of spelling, as learning it is such a chore: we should go back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when modern English was being formed. Everyone had their own spelling then. The new-fangled apostrophe was coming in from French and Italian, so early-adopters used it to form plurals, as in apple’s and tomatoe’s. Such plurals still appear on signs in markets, four hundred years on, hence it is known as the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe.’

In those days there was no spelling authority and no style manuals. When a work was published it would appear in the spelling favoured by the author, the printer, or even the setter of the type. Proofreading then was not for spelling mistakes – there weren’t any – it was to watch out for dangerous criticisms of the king or other powerful people. Come to think of it, the cycle of history has brought us disturbingly close to that practice again.

The only objection to freestyle spelling comes from those who have spent long hours painstakingly learning standard orthography. They just think they’re better than us.

So im longin 2 c owr langwidge riten simple wiv no hard spelins or funi marx, an awl riten difrent cos rools r eleetist.

When the apostrophe does disappear, sometime this century, it won’t of course take with it the single quotation mark, which it resembles. I doubt there’s any danger of that; it’s just an excuse to end by quoting my favourite sentence. It’s in the novel Enderby Outside by Anthony Burgess:

‘Then, instead of expensive mouthwash, he had breathed on Hogg-Enderby, bafflingly (for no banquet would serve, because of the known redolence of onions, onions) onions. “Onions”, said Hogg’.

David Lovejoy, Echo co-founder

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  1. Noooooooooooo. Don’t surrender to the lazy & ignorant. Apostrophes rule! Be damned if I’m going to stop using them.
    Its a crying shame that it’s use isn’t compulsory!

  2. I also weep. The widespread errors in punctuation also affront me. What upsets me even more are all the dangling participles, propositions and verbs. Another story altogether! Hopefully soon to be found published in the Grand Old Echo of 2022. Happy New Year.

  3. I cannot understand why people have a problem with apostrophes. As you say, just concentrate. Without the apostrophe sentences don’t make sense. Another thing that bothers me is the non use of adverbs! Shop local; get in quick; drive slow etc. The lack of knowledge of the written language astounds me with so much attention given to education these days. My grammar was learnt in the 1930/1940 years. It’s still with me along with the times tables!

  4. It’ll be a sad sad day , when the ‘ is gone.
    A new organisation “Bring Back the Apostrophe” is required immediately before the apostrophe is gone forever and it’s nothing but a long lost memory.
    All those years at school where punctuation was rammed into our brains, seems like a waste of time and effort now.

  5. Not to mention the rise of ignorance around simple spelling: your, you’re / their, their, they’re. I’m really sad about the demise of English language and the slow death of the apostrophe.

  6. I’m not that fussed by the demise of the apostrophe. I’m sure in most instances the intended meaning is made clear by context. Plurals perhaps present the most obvious example though of its usefulness.

    What I would put in a plug for though is the humble paragraph. A page of unbroken text is very uninviting, breaks giving the eye a brief respite. They also, if used properly, give the reader a cue for new information or a new development in the progression of ideas. Most important of all, proper attention to paragraphing’s latter function encourages the writer to find some degree of coherence and logical sequence.

    Some published writers have now abandoned the paragraph with some sort of bold avant garde ambition – or maybe they just never mastered the concept. It still makes me want to throw the text over my shoulder – which isn’t such a good idea if it’s on an e reader or a tablet.

    For a while, there was a deluge of paragraph-free diatribes in in the Covid culture debates on these pages. It probably shows my personal bias but these seemed to be more common on the “scamdemic “ side. I don’t know whether this is a product of the indiscriminate application of the copy and paste function or symptomatic of a disordered mind but, despite wanting to consider the views presented, it did my head in and I sometimes had to give up reading.

    So while it may not matter if we all appreciate the difference between “the dog’s breakfast” and “the dogs’ breakfast”, it does matter if the former is an apt description of your composition. So my suggestion would be: don’t worry about the odd feral apostrophe but, if your contribution has no paragraphs, go back and try again. There is copious advice on the internet on the purpose and application of the vital art of paragraphing.


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