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