I realise this is a lost cause. We’re 7: nil down and into injury time but I feel I can’t give up until the ref blows the final whistle. Which in my case will be when a doctor signs my death certificate. I’m talking about apostrophes, not for the first time and probably not for the last.
I’m always on the lookout for punctuation abuse and I saw an interesting example the other day in this most literate of cities, Dublin. The shop was one of those places where you can rent a tuxedo or an evening gown, something to wear to what the English would call A Posh Do. The owner had had an elegant sign painted but landed herself with a punctuation puzzle. What is the plural of the noun Do? Is it Dos? Is it Does? Neither looks right. So the sign read Posh Do’s, which I think is the greater of three evils. It would have been better to call the business Grand Occasions and steer well clear of the punctuation police.
Years ago Mr F recruited his own militia to deal with apostrophe abuse. Each volunteer was issued with a laminated ID card and a supply of vinyl peel-off stick-on apostrophes in various sizes. The kit even included white ones, for the obliteration of intrusive apostrophes. Ah, those were the days.
One of Mr F’s most enduring personal punctuating achievements can still be seen in the ancient university city of Cambridge. On the corner of Sussex and Hobson Streets is Tatties cafe where, one wet Sunday evening in 1997, we noticed its sign for Children’s Menu lacked an apostrophe. It was late, the cafe was closed and the sign was stuck to the inside of the window so my husband, never a man to let the grass grow, stuck the needed apostrophe onto the outside of the glass. And it’s there still, fifteen years on. Recently we happened to be in Cambridge and went to check up on it.
It was such an exciting moment I urged Mr F to go inside and introduce himself. The Polish waitress was hugely impressed. ‘Zadziwiadacy!’ she cried. Because Poles don’t use apostrophes at all. Heavens, they hardly even use vowels. I suppose what she was actually thinking was, ‘Is crazy old person.’
There is going to come a time, and it will be quite soon, when the apostrophe is regarded as archaic as those funny old Ss that looked like Fs. It’s already official in certain parts of the UK where local councils have told their signage departments not to bother. Scholards (sic) Lane in Ramsbury, Wiltshire was an example of this until my husband whipped out his handy travel pack of apostrophes and corrected it.
Does it matter? Well, in the league tables of battles worth fighting it’s obviously not up there with malaria and Islamification of the West, but I do think the apostrophe’s disappearance signals something about the impoverishment of language. Punctuation is the great clarifier. You’re nuts or your nuts? I rather think we need to know.