The Gatekeeper’s Apostrophe (formerly The Greengrocer’s apostrophe)
19 September, 2009
Standards of literacy must be slipping in Dublin theatre-land.
But before getting on to that, there was a fascinating article in the Daily Telegraph on 29th August: “Councils issue crib sheets to prevent grammatical howlers on signs”. There’s a mixture of good and bad news here for those who think that the battle for the apostrophe is not yet lost.
Council staff are being issued with an “idiot’s guide” on how to use apostrophes and other punctuation marks correctly in a bid to stem their misuse in street signs and official notices. Local authorities around the country have now resorted to issuing GCSE-style crib sheets to their staff in a bid to raise standards of grammar in their organisations. Guidance for staff at Salford council states: “Do not assume that if you don’t know whether to use an apostrophe, then most of your readers won’t either. Many of your readers will notice, and they will infer that you did not learn to write correctly. If a reader notices that you have used incorrect grammar, you will instantly lose credibility.”
….. In an apparent reflection of the poor standards of grammar among their employees, the guides warn against basic errors, such as the common grocer’s mistake of using an apostrophe to denote a plural, eg: ‘banana’s for sale’.
….. John Richardson, chairman and founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society, said: “Thankfully councils are finally waking up to the problem of missing or incorrect apostrophes and punctuation. But they should not really have to issue this sort of basic guidance. I’m afraid it says something about their employees.”
However, some local authorities have given up the battle of the apostrophe altogether. Earlier this year Birmingham city council announced that it was abandoning the use of the punctuation mark on all new street signs.
Anyway, this was brought to mind by a particularly grievous misuse of the apostrophe in an advertisement in the Sunday Tribune T2 section on 13th September. The “commercial” (see below) was for, of all people, the Gate Theatre in Dublin, and was publicising its Brian Friel celebration.