|The University Arms. The OUP Colophon shows just the open book:|
The first article is a news item on p. 11 of the hardcopy about a decision by Mid Devon Local Authority not to use apostrophes on road names; in fact. it is making official a de facto actuality that is not unique to Devon. When I moved to my current address, in 1984, I noted (with slight but admittedly risible annoyance) that my new home was in 'Spencers Wood' [sic - no apostrophe]. And in 1979 I learnt (with similar slight but admittedly risible annoyance) that book designers don't like apostrophes in display work, thinking they're visually fussy.
But my late twentieth-century sightings of apostropho-clasm are far from original. GBS wrote
I have written aint, dont, havent, shant, shouldnt, and wont for twenty years with perfect impunity, using the apostrophe only when its omission would suggest another word: for example hell for he’ll. There is not the faintest reason for persisting in the ugly and silly trick of papering [sic, in the Otrops article I link to below for further research. I regret having no time to find a primary source; I suspect Shaw may have used the more meaningful 'peppering'] pages with these uncouth bacilli.(Isn't that bacilli marvellous? Bacilli were in the news at the time, because of discoveries in connection with these stick-like [Latin baculum – 'little staff'; there's that '-ulus/m' again, denoting a diminutive, as noted in a previous post] microscopic objects. Shaw was a contemporary of Fleming – who was born before Shaw but outlived him. One can imagine Shaw reading a newspaper or scientific leaflet illustrated with a slide covered with these things looking like chocolate vermicelli - and there's another metaphor, 'little worms', but that would be a digression too far). You can read more about apostrophes here, if you're that way inclined. I really can't get awfully excited about this sort of thing.
But one of the editorialists at The Times can – oh yes. No names, no pack-drill, but I have my suspicions (think of the word 'pray' tacked on coyly after questions in the Literary Quiz). How's this for blustering grandiloquence?
Its great virtue as a mark of punctuation [ed: my underline: useful bit of clarification here, in case we thought he was talking about its great virtue as... a table ornament?] is that it aids clarity and dispels confusion.... The residents of Mid Devon should have the uncontested right [best sort that, 'uncontested'; but has anyone contested it?] to share those benefits, [are we dealing with a Human Right here? Oh no, it's just for those happy few who have a winning ticket in the lottery of life:] which are enjoyed by the rest of the English-speaking world.A case in point is the unbelievably significant 'Bakers View'
The apostrophe is a punctuation mark [phew, that possible table ornament was getting uncomfortably central in my mind, glad he's cleared that up] that drives out ambiguity [shouldn't that have been 'casteth out ambiguity'?] It allows the reader to tell immediately [useful word that, 'immediately'; clearly, the apostrophe is not one of those insidious delayed-action punctuation marks] if a word or name is a singular possessive ('Baker's View'), a plural possessive ('Bakers' View') or a plural noun followed by a verb ('Bakers View'). [Incidentally, that last one is meaningless as captalized; given the correct lower-case v, there are only two possible meanings.]As it happens, the news item explains that 'Bakers View' is a new road or building overlooking a bit of greenery already called 'Bakers Park'. So if you wanted to be really anal about it there should be no apostrophe; but I don't. I don't think sane people do.
But maybe this bit of verbiage-generation doesn't happen behind the paywall. The repetitive and unnecessarily verbose editorial may have been 'written' in response to a need to fill the space (about a third of the available – editorial – space). I'll never know. But I do recognize a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. Language changes. 'Change and decay in all around I see.' It's a bit of a shame about the fate of the apostrophe. Life goes on. 'Point final' as my old French master used to say at the end of a Dictée. I think it meant something like 'End of.'
Update 2013.03.24 PS * I was right about peppering. The source is George Bernard Shaw, "Notes on the Clarendon Press Rules for Compositors and Readers." The Author, 1901. (It is a happy coincidence that Shaw's words come from a review of the forerunner of the very rules that I mentioned with respect to another bit of quaint arbitrariness – the italicized The in The Times though not in, for example, 'the New York Times'.) I have this information from a fuller and more reliable piece on the apostrophe than the Ostrop piece I cite in the main post. For fuller information, see here. I've taken this opportunity also to update the usage figures in the section that follows.
* Update 2013.04.05: It's here.
Mammon (When Vowels Get Together V4.0: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs – AA-AU, EA-EU, and IA-IU, and – new for V4.0 – OA-OU. If you buy it, contact @WVGTbook on Twitter and I'll alert you to free downloads of the forthcoming volumes; or click the Following button at the foot of this page.)
And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.
Freebies (Teaching resources: nearly 32,400 views**, and 4,400 downloads to date. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with 1570 views/700 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)
** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.