End the madness of the apostrophe


It's time to stop the madness, before there's violence. A town in Ontario is split in half, brother against brother, mother against father, dog against parakeet, over whether the town's name has an apostrophe.

Apostrophes must go.

A crisis is gripping the town of Bright's Grove, Ontario. Or, rather, Brights Grove. Whichever.

"The small southwestern Ontario hamlet can't seem to decide, and as a result both versions of its name grace signs, maps and government documents, which is upsetting townsfolk on both sides of the debate," reports the Winnipeg Sun. "At least one member of the village recently wrote city hall to express her disappointment with new signs that feature the name with an apostrophe."

Official documents are no help.

"Government databases say the apostrophe doesn't belong," the Sun explains. "But school names bearing a possessive ‘s' and other community markers suggest the possessive determiner is correct."

The pain and the anguish hit closer to home, too. The New Republic magazine recently weighed in on the matter.

"More than a few understand that apostrophes serve no function and could be eliminated from writing with no ill effect," the magazine's John McWhorter explains. "The apostrophe is a magnificently arbitrary little frill, antique, fussy, and almost begging to be used incorrectly, like a fish fork."

He's right. In fact, there's a website out there called, none too harshly, "KillTheApostrophe.com."

The website makes a strong case for euthanizing the problematic punctuation.

"Tremendous amounts of money are spent every year by businesses on proof readers, part of whose job is to put apostrophes in the ‘correct' place — to no semantic effect whatsoever," it says. "And the rest of us sit there clicking thru with Microsofts grammar checker, trying to work out if its telling us the truth or not about whether we really need an apostrophe there."

Catch a couple of mistakes in that paragraph? That's the point.

"If youre the kind of person who does know and care about the ‘correct' usage of apostrophes, think how much time you waste fretting over examples of ‘misuse' when the very fact that you spotted the error means that you knew what they were trying to say in the first place," the site notes.

And that's really the point of language, isn't it? To communicate our thoughts to others.

Still, the apostrophe has its defenders. And they're not happy about its misuse.

As Lynne Truss writes in her book, "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," "If you still persist in writing, ‘Good food at it's best', you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave."

Yet even the apostrophe's supporters admit that texting could eventually kill the confused comma. Today's texters will one day rule the world.

But we'll give the last word to the venerable George Bernard Shaw. In 1902 he was already tired of apostrophes.

"There is not the faintest reason for persisting in the ugly and silly trick of peppering pages with these uncouth bacilli," he wrote.

Let's end the madness.


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