Wherever you look in the UK today you will see examples of misuse and often utter disregard for the possessive apostrophe. It’s almost as if sign writers and marketing folk just can’t be bothered – and as a result, is it any wonder that the public become confused?
It’s a fairly simple rule, but sadly it seems one that the Americans just can’t get their heads round. As pointed out on an episode of QI with Stephen Fry not so long ago, only five place-names in the US feature the possessive apostrophe.
- Martha’s Vineyard, MA
- Ike’s Point, NJ
- John E’s Pond, RI
- Clark’s Mountain, OR
- Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View, AZ
Now, while we may expect this sort of behaviour from the Americans (after all, they have their own version of our language) we don’t expect it from government and council bodies in the UK.
Sadly, one UK council (not wanting to name names, but it’s Birmingham) has dispensed with the possessive apostrophe altogether – claiming that as people are unsure of when to use it, they’ll just get rid of it instead and make things easy all round.
Len Gregory, a Birmingham City Councillor, stated:
I don’t see the point of them. If it was to give more clarity to the people of Birmingham it might be something we would look at, but I see no benefits at all.
Of course, what Len actually means is:
We don’t know when to use the possessive apostrophe, so we’re not going to bother. We don’t care if our school children grow up unable to correctly use English grammar, as they’re never going to need it anyway.
Martin Mullaney, another councillor with Birmingham City Council, admitted that there are some intelligent people in Birmingham who are unhappy at the council’s decision to incorrectly use punctuation (note, that’s the “council’s” decision, not the “councils’ ” as there’s only one council – thankfully!).
We are constantly getting residents asking for apostrophes to be put back in, and as a council we have got to make a decision one way or another.
Is it any wonder that children are growing up illiterate when we have councils making decisions like this?