Friday, January 30, 2009

Doing it right is just too hard

Birmingham Council have decided to obliterate the apostrophe.

Why? Because staff there spend too much time dealing with complaints about grammar, apparently - but when you read on, you realise that the reason people are complaining in the first place is because this is not a new policy.

Martin Mullaney, a councillor who chairs the city's transportation scrutiny committee, pointed out that Birmingham had been quietly phasing out apostrophes since the 1950s.

Yet he suggested the move was necessary in order to end time-consuming queries from local pedants once and for all.

"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," Mr Mullaney said.

So the reason people are complaining is the existence of this policy in the first place. If you read on a little bit further you get a feeling for the kind of person Martn Mullaney is.

Regarding nearby locations whose names derived from the crown, Mr Mullaney said: "Since the monarchy no longer own either Kings Heath or Kings Norton it is argued that it is no longer grammatically correct to include the possessive apostrophe."

I doubt whether the monarchy ever owned Kings Norton, but why make an issue over place names derived from the royalty? I'm certain All Saints' Avenue has never been owned by all the saints and I seriously wonder if the Brickmaker's Arms used to be owned by a brickmaker, but Mr. Mullaney makes it an issue of royal ownership. You don't suppose he might be a left wing republican, by any chance?

Grammar isn't always easy - we all get it wrong from time to time (I know I certainly do!) - but it is important. A grammatical error can completely change the meaning of something, but if our local authorities can't be bothered to do it correctly then what chance is there that our children will?


JuliaM said...

Ahh, councillors! So useful...

Aren't you glad we'll soon be allowing them to vote from the pub and paying them redundancy payments? ;)

staybryte said...

Two words: Jameson Raid.

Really like the blog BTW Stan.

Chalcedon said...

It takes 5 minutes to explain the correct use of the apostrophe. Unfortunately grammar and correct use isn't on the English syllabus. Nor is spelling.

1) With nouns (plural and singular) not ending in an s add 's.
the children's books, the people's parliament, a Mother's pride

2) With plural nouns ending in an s, add only the apostrophe.
the guards' duties, the Nuns' habits, the Joneses' house

3) With singular nouns ending in an s, you can add either 's or an apostrophe alone.
the witness's lie or the witness' lie (be consistent)
Exception: ancient or religious names.
Jesus' strength, Achilles' heel

4a) For common possession, only add 's to the last name.
Janet and Jane's house

4b) Where possession is not common, add to each.
Janet's and Jane's homes

With the exception of one's, pronouns (its, his, hers) do not require an apostrophe.

anmd of copurse '69 representing 1969