WEEKENDER: Time to give the apostrophe its due
10:26am Saturday 25th January 2014 in News
THIS column would never advocate the breaking of the law – but a small act of defiance in Cambridge recently, though technically a matter of criminal damage, has left me with a feeling of something approaching satisfaction.
A marker pen vigilante has been waging a war of words against the city council over its anti-apostrophe stance with regard to street names.
The council has banished the humble apostrophe from such signs, claiming they can prove confusing to emergency services.
But some self-appointed protector of the language has taken it upon him – or herself – to begin inserting apostrophes on street signs where the names have been deprived of them.
Forgive me, but – hurrah!
The humble apostrophe has been misused and abused for years, and is now ignored altogether in many areas. Cambridge is not alone.
The Apostrophe Protection Society – yes indeed, see www.apostrophe.org.uk – wages a valiant battle against those who would attack the humble ‘.
But this guerilla action on the streets of one of the most celebrated centres of learning in the world marks an intensifying of the battle to make sure the apostrophe is not ignored.
Of course, this is a battle on two fronts. One involves trying to ensure that the apostrophe is used in street names, and other public signage. The second is to try to make sure it is used correctly.
Too often one sees the apostrophe misused on the likes of chalkboards advertising food, clothing, pub drinks offers, and in other forms of information. The list is endless.
Walk down any high street in the UK and the likelihood that you will see a misplaced apostrophe is pretty high.
It is not for this column to explain what they are for and how they should be used. But surely it is not expecting too much for people to know this stuff? It is basic educational fare after all.
And I’m not sure either how the argument for apostrophes confusing the emergency services is made. How is an apostrophe capable of that?
Of course, it is to be expected that someone who makes a living by using the language – and by extension loves that language – is going to defend a vital piece of its punctuation.
To me, it is about standards.
Every time I see a misplaced apostrophe, or a word or phrase where the required apostrophe is missing, I wince.
Were I rifling through a pile of job applications and CVs, and someone clearly demonstrated an ignorance of the apostrophe and how to use it, I would be worried.
I would hope that officers in those councils that do not use apostrophes in street signs would feel the same – but doesn’t that also demonstrate the application of a strange and equally wince-inducing double standard?
The perils of the text walk
RESEARCH this week from the University of Queensland in Australia claims that texting on our mobile phones while we walk is dangerous.
Such findings might seem like a statement of the obvious, given that the very act of texting means we are not watching where we are going - but it seems that is only a part of the problem.
In order to keep the phone as still as possible while we walk and text, we adopt a robot-like posture, stiffening our arms, torsos and legs - but this apparently makes us more prone to falling over.
I had never really thought about this before, but earlier this week, whilst people-watching through the window of a Cardiff coffee shop, I watched a young man shuffle what must have been the better part of 50 metres along a busy shopping street, texting furiously without once looking up, seemingly oblivious to the hustle and bustle, the street furniture and the kerbs around him.
And yes, he appeared unable to bend his legs, while his arms looked as if they were permanently bent and rigid to allow his mobile phone to be constantly in front of his face.
Curiously, I caught myself holding my breath, waiting for an inevitable coming together with a street light or a fellow pedestrian.
But this chap had clearly developed some sort of sixth sense that enabled him to ignore the world around him, substituting it for the endless wonders to be found displayed on the 60 square centimetres of screen before him, with little apparent consequence.
One thing though.
Robot-like he did indeed appear, but for one key detail - I've never seen a robot with a stoop.
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