Column: Apostrophe catastrophe

Helen MacDonald

I’ve heard a rumour Oh woe is me

There’s another looming catastrophe

Soon there will no longer be

The use of the ancient apostrophe

As a militant pedant who bemoans any misuse of the apostrophe, cringing at greengrocers’ signs such as ‘Apple’s 50p’ or pub signs offering ‘Sunday Roast’s’ I was partly shocked and somewhat unsurprised to read that it may be in its dying throes, according to researchers at Lancaster University, who have discovered that its use has dropped quite significantly in the last year.

I suspect that social media and smartphones have a lot to do with this.

We’re living in a world where instantaneous communication is more or less forced on us, except for dinosaurs like me.

Texts and emails on phones must be responded to immediately, whatever the recipient is doing, and at great speed. I’m bemused when I see young people with fingers flying over their phones as they walk down the street or chat to a friend.

Even more so when driving and see other drivers texting at traffic lights or in queues.

No wonder that apostrophes get forgotten!

Fortunately, when I attempt texting on my phone, I have oodles of time to remember them, as every second letter is wrong, thanks to my slow, fat fingers.

The article I read mentioned that quite a number of companies have already rid themselves of apostrophes, such as Waterstones and Barclays, whilst British Rail is in the process of killing them, as King’s Cross becomes Kings Cross, for example.

On the other hand, Lands’ End, the clothes store, insists on keeping it. Ironically, it’s not doing a good PR job for the threatened item, as they’re using it incorrectly! Does it really matter?

I’ve learned to accept that language is continually changing – so much so that teen-speak is an unintelligible modern foreign language these days as far as I’m concerned.

Even many of the so-called well-known sayings on ITV’s Catchphrase are new to me. Apparently If I ‘spill the tea’ I’m revealing all the latest gossip (didn’t it use to be beans?) And if you think you can compliment a teenager using the words ‘dope’ or ‘cool’, you’re so out of date.

Nowadays you must refer to them as ‘Lit’, ‘fleek’ or ‘GOAT’ (greatest of all time), especially if you’re talking to your ‘bae’ (before anyone else/ best friend).

And so, as language changes at lightning speed – or so it seems to me – I very reluctantly accept that grammar may also change.

I can just about live with that as long as there’s still clarity and unambiguity when written down. I’m not hopeful.

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