Alan Dee: It’s never great to decide not to punctuate
So its crunch time tomorrow on whether councillor’s in Mid Devon decide to banish apostrophe’s from street signs.
If you read the preceding paragraph without tutting, or even realising something was amiss, then you’d probably best move on to something a little less complicated. A Spot The Dog book springs to mind.
The councillors down in the West Country who will be debating what they thought was a little local housekeeping issue have doubtless been taken aback by the global interest in whether or not they use apostrophes or not. After all, there are only actually three streets in the Tiverton area that require them,
Apparently that’s because they’ve been avoiding them for years rather than make a mistake which would cause language pedants to snort and write critical letters to the local paper.
But now they’re thinking of making it official policy there’s been uproar.
To me the good burghers of Mid Devon have been correctly applying rule one of apostrophes, and much else in life: If in doubt, leave it out.
It makes much more sense to avoid them if you’re unsure, rather than blithely press ahead with that expensive new shop sign or important leaflet without checking, and making yourself look like a right divot.
Misplaced punctuation marks of this sort have become known as greengrocer’s apostrophes because of their prevalence among the fruit and veg. Grocers have claimed that they only do it to grab attention, and that may be true on a hastily handwritten sign, but if that was true major multinationals would be at it on their expensive ad campaigns, too. Oh, sometimes they are... Mmmmm.
But apostrophes exist for a reason, they are jolly useful and the rules take about five minutes to grasp – they’re certainly less confusing than the operating instructions of your new mobile phone, and most people seem to cope with them.
I hesitate to blame the teachers, as I am required to share duvet space with one, but this one is down to them.
Failure to correct basic grammar and spelling throughout 13 years of compulsory education leaves people so lacking in simple communication skills that they boob and blunder, and don’t even realise what they’re doing. It’s the language equivalent of walking around with your flies undone.
But although I believe that anyone who struggles with these simple rules could be quickly sorted out with a programme of remedial education backed up with electric shocks when they get it wrong, I’m not advocating that this should be introduced.
After all, if everyone knew how to use an apostrophe, picky pedants like me wouldn’t be able to look down our noses at those who get it wrong, would we?