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Defend the apostrophe from municipal attack

Seaton Nick Seaton of the Campaign for Real Education says Councils removing apostrophes from road signs is an attack on the English language.

Last week's news that a second local authority, Wakefield, plans to join Birmingham in removing apostrophes from street signs is perhaps more ominous than it seems.

Unless such nonsense is stopped, it could become the norm.

Needless to say, it's a Liberal Democrat, Martin Mullaney,  who devised the policy in Birmingham.   Councillor Mullaney, who chairs the transportation scrutiny committee, argues that because some signs in Birmingham do not include the apostrophe, it makes sense to exclude them altogether, as a simple matter of policy.  Because it would be expensive to replace existing signs whose apostrophe is missing, he says the sensible course is to get rid of them all. He also suggests that because computerised databases and satellite navigation systems can't cope with apostrophes, human beings shouldn't bother with them either.

What tosh!  This is typical 'progressive' nonsense that should have been killed off as soon as it saw the light of day. As several commentators have pointed out, ignoring apostrophes sets a terrible example to teachers and young people:  that correct grammar and punctuation don't matter. And surely, inaccurate street signs are official advertisements announcing that, in their locality, standards and accuracy have no importance?

Wakefield's director of planning and property, Ian Thompson,  also makes the pathetic excuse that apostrophes cause problems with electronic data.  But why? Is it the software that can't cope or is it the operators?  Around 15 years ago, early versions of databases perhaps did have problems with apostrophes, but is that still true?

Defending apostrophes and other punctuation is not mere pedantry. Some places have a King's Road and a Kings Road. Lacking a full postcode, which does an ambulance head for in an emergency?

Get rid of apostrophes, then the use of commas and full stops (already happening in many schools and colleges) and what happens to accurate spelling?

Ambivalence about spelling is dangerous too. What if a doctor proscribes a drug for someone because they have a life-threatening allergy? Make a mistake about one letter and turn proscribe into prescribe and serious consequences are almost inevitable.

Meanwhile, news that local government is ignoring the apostrophe is not limited to the shores of Britain. Similar stories of idiotic statements and behaviour by teachers' unions, politicians and officials spread across the world within hours. Other countries, where people used to respect and admire Britain for its good sense and high standards, now record  –  probably with a smile of sadness or pleasure – the nation's decline into a collective state of lunacy.

The English language and its literature are renowned for their precision and ability to express subtle shades of meaning. Can we afford to stand by and allow its destruction by people who pretend to be 'progressive' when, in reality, they are seriously regressive?


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