On December 2nd (2019), CBC radio’s popular current events show, “As It Happens,” featured an interview with 96 year old John Richards, the UK-based founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society.
After fighting for 18 years to protect the punctuation mark from “misuse and oblivion,” chairman Richards shared that he has given up. For nearly a generation, he has urged people to use proper punctuation, but says that barbarian practices have won out, due to “a mixture of ignorance and laziness.”
He observed that “a lot of people don’t care very much about being totally correct [so] if you want an apostrophe, put it anywhere. They don’t bother to learn the right place or wrong place.”
Richards likes the English language, finding it “very expressive. And the apostrophe plays a very important part in it.” So many don’t know where to place the apostrophe, and so think “it’s best to leave it out.”
A case in point is the owner of a local café, whose owner put the sign “COFFEE’s” in the window. When Richards spoke to him about the error, the owner said, “I think it looks better with the apostrophe.” About such cases, Richards says, nothing can be done.
He says that often the apostrophe is misused to form the plural of nouns (e.g. “Iced Bun’s” or “Ladie’s Washroom”). In these cases, the apostrophe has been reduced to a mere decoration, regardless of meaning .
(Photo by picjumbo.com from Pexels.)
Richards laments that “people have decided that the apostrophe is going to disappear. It may not be immediate, but it will be in a few years . . . and most people won’t be bothered at all.”
The apostrophe is challenging, as it’s used for contractions as well as for possessives. There are rules to learn (although not many or difficult ones) that increasingly are disregarded. He says that “the English language is deteriorating in the UK, generally,” and that many people “just don’t bother about getting things right.” Imagine what he’d find in contemporary North American writing practices!
Even as John Richards retires at age 96 and closes the society, he takes heart in what victories the society has had in the past 18 years, correcting public misuses of apostrophes. He hopes that someone with “more energy” will take up his mantle.
And now it’s your turn: Do you care about correct punctuation? Do write in; I’d be delighted to extend this conversation.