OPINION: I was just thinking... about disappearing apostrophes

I was just thinking...about communication and, specifically, language and its construction.

It is there to help us specify meaning and determine message. Without it we are naught but apes. There was much huffing and puffing last week in Cambridge, particularly in those circles from whence you would expect huffing and puffing about the deterioration of language to come. Why? Well, apparently, Cambridge City Council has decided to ban the use of apostrophes on the city’s street signs.

I have, in consequence, decided to undertake a two-paragraph experiment. Before starting the little trial it’s worth pointing out that the elected leaders of the city, which is one of the twin pillars of learning, a bastion of knowledge if you will, should not be singled out for vilification. The guidance from authority is bewildering. Apostrophes, we are informed, confuse the emergency services up and down the land. It is laid down by National Land and Property Gazetteer that street signs should avoid their use.

But away with rising irritation and barely suppressed ire. On with the experiment. The challenge? To continue this column without punctuation and, consequently, devoid of any capitalisation. The intention? To see if the meaning of the words I write remains clear. Thereafter, to carry the experiment to a further level and care little for the accuracy of my spelling. The computer on which I write will probably have a seizure as the spell-check tool goes into overdrive. But Hell, if it was good enough for James Joyce and e e cummings it’s good enough for us.

the contention that we more mature generations are fixated on unnecessary punctuation taught to us in our youth is one that needs examining we are all too often too fixed in our ways and change is always difficult to contemplate but language is a beautiful thing and its desecration is something to guard against yet we shouldnt be unbending the lexicon has been immeasurably improved by the inclusion of contemporary words yet justice cannot be seen to be done to either the old nor the new words without the use of punctuation the very architecture on which the words themselves so often rely to enable us to understand the intention behind them now I know that I have written this paragraph and know what I intend it to mean but having reread it im pretty certain that its not incomprehensible perhaps the street sign simplification lobby has a point its undeniably harder to read though so on with the next paragraph does spelling matter

their is conflict even hear as the junger generasian larf at our adhearance to wot wee beleeve is the rite weigh things shuld bee spelt there beleef is that wee are to draconian in that adhearance and that both punkchewasian and speling dont mater as much as we think it duz

Enough! I can’t go on. I understand that I am a language fascist. It’s in my genes and there is nothing I can do about it. Talking to friends the other day about its sophistication made me understand that my predilection for using multi-syllabic words and complex sentence constructions comes from a passionate love of language. I love the stuff and its innate ability to manipulate emotion, to communicate fact and to offer perspective on concept. It has, over the centuries, given us some of the world’s greatest riches. Where would we be without the language of people as widely diverse as Shakespeare, Confucius and the writers of the Koran?

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I know we’re only speaking about a few apostrophes on street signs. But really, ask yourself, what is the reasoning behind it, the rationale? Is anyone going to die because an ambulance is directed to Queen’s Road rather than Queens Road? Is a house going to be burned to a cinder because the appliance is sent to the The Baker’s Arms rather than The Bakers Arms? I think not. And whilst we’re on the subject, doesn’t it worry you that those highly trained and qualified folk charged with our safety and wellbeing, might be confused by an apostrophe? Perhaps it all comes down to cost. I wonder if apostrophes are expensive.