One Man’s Mission

I’ve had apostrophes on my mind. It started with the sight of my new grandson curled up in his onesie like a perfect little apostrophe. Soon after that I read about the word’s etymology  –  funny how you can use a word all your life and never wonder where it came from. Apostrophe has Greek roots: strophein, to turn, apo, away. So, turning away from or omitting a letter. I’m guessing here. And an apostroph, a word now fallen out of use and which spellcheck doesn’t want to allow, meant a digression.

All this led me to reminisce about my husband’s missionary zeal regarding apostrophes. Back in the Nineties he recruited operatives to go out into the field and fearlessly correct apostrophic abuses. Each recruit was given a laminated DTI Punctuation Enforcement Division identity card on a lanyard and a supply of peel-off vinyl apostrophes in various sizes. The last time I checked there was still evidence of this activity on a café window in Cambridge and a street sign in a Wiltshire village. Those apostrophes were good value for money.

Howard also conceived the idea of a Fashion Police Force. Officers appointed to red card anyone wearing cargo pants at half-mast, baseball caps backwards or sideways, images of Che Guevara and various other items that he deemed an offence against civilisation. It never took off. Even back in the day he could see the potential for his foot soldiers to get smacked on the nose or charged with a hate crime. Apostrophe placement provoked no rage or officious interference. Baffled ennui, more like.

It seems particularly cruel that dementia has now robbed him of language. He chats away quite merrily but in a style reminiscent of Stanley Unwin. All I can do is listen, nod, look thoughtful or amused, whichever seems appropriate. And, of course, make sure wee Hamish grows up knowing where the apostrophe goes. Grandpa Howard’s legacy.



  1. Chris Hutton on February 16, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    What a lovely post – although I admit that I sometimes misuse apostrophes just to annoy my husband, so I’m clearly not as nice as you!

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