Apostrophe Now!

[image title=”apostrophetoo” size=”thumbnail” id=”369″ align=”right” linkto=”https://irrationale2.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/apostrophetoo.jpg” ]Ah, the humble apostrophe. It’s been indicating omitted letters, showing a possesive case and pluralising our words for hundreds of years. All classic English literature contains a liberal use of this simple elevated comma, sometimes in variations which are no longer used (somewhere, o’er the rainbow!). It seems so simple to me, yet it’s something that many people seem to struggle with.

The apostrophe entered service in about 1533. It’s name was derived from the Greek “apostrophos” ([the accent of] turning away) via the French iteration, “apostrophe”. Essentially, the accent shows that a letter or two have been “turned away”, such as “it is” being contracted to “it’s”. It can also be used as a possesive indication, however this is actually a contraction as well, since the classic posessive indication was an -es on the end of the word. So instead of “Captain Cookes Fleet”, the e is stripped and we are left with “Captain Cook’s Fleet”.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Well, no, it doesn’t. Which is why there’s a great movement of people who want to see it exiled from service.

As a native of the Internet and a very particular user of the English language, I can’t help myself from rolling my eyes and shaking my head whenever I see something like the image at the start of this article – a complete lack of apostrophe use in a sentence where there should be at least a couple (the spelling mistake chaps my caboose too, but that’s another story), or when apostrophes are added in places they shouldn’t be.

And on the internet, this sort of thing happens a lot. A hell of a lot.

So when I recently read an article on about.com (there’s also a grammar guideline which is good), I was intrigued. The other side of this argument, it seems, are quite sick of this little squiggle, and are forming a campaign to remove it from service entirely. This sort of idea isn’t anything new – it’s been going on since about 1940 thanks to an American linguist, Steven Byington.

The most vocal group involved in this modern iteration are the chaps over at killtheapostrophe.com, who say that this horrible piece of english punctuation should be outlawed – not only because it’s tough for some to figure out how to use it, but because people like me hate seeing it abused and misused in the most horrible of ways.

In fact, this sort of removal of the apostrophe is already in place under certain circumstances – Place names, for example. Many moons ago, place names with posessive apostrophes were removed, while leaving the posessive ‘S’. For example, the town where I grew up was Coffs Harbour instead of Coff’s Harbour (although it was originally Korff’s Harbour, but again, another story).

On one hand I feel that this is could be a nice change – no longer will I have to see people maiming my native tongue with errors a twelve-year-old could pick out. On the other hand, I can’t help but think that this is a bit of a cop out – if people can’t figure out how to use a humble apostrophe, why should we modify the structure of the english language to accomodate for their laziness?

Well, I’m not sure. Personally I like the apostrophe, purely because (I think) I know how to use it – but I’m not the only person using the English language. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

In the mean time, feel free to make a comment either here or on about.com – because even if the internet is leading the charge against my beloved apostrophe, it’s a great place to discuss it’s demise.


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