Critics become possessive as councils ban apostrophe in street names
If there is one thing guaranteed to raise the hackles among some it is incorrect use of the apostrophe, so the banning of the punctuation mark in street names was certain to cause a furore.
It certainly has caused a storm in the West where Mid Devon District Council is being recommended to ban the apostrophe from street names “to avoid confusion”.
It led proofreader Mary de Vere Taylor from Ashburton to say the thought of apostrophes being removed made her “shudder”.
“It’s almost as though somebody with a giant eraser is literally trying to erase punctuation from our consciousness,” she said adding that there was something “terribly British and terribly reassuring” about well-written and well-punctuated writing.
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“Some may say I should get a life and get out more, but if I got out more and saw place names with no apostrophes where there should be, I shudder to think how I’d react.”
But Mid Devon is not alone. South Somerset District Council says it also decided last year not to have punctuation in street names. Wiltshire Council has the same policy, and in practice many councils, have omitted the apostrophe in recent years.
Last year bookseller Waterstones decided to remove punctuation from its brand name.
There is no national guidance for councils, but Mid-Devon said it was “to avoid potential confusion”.
South Somerset’s policy, updated last year states: “No punctuation in the use of street names will be used. For example, ‘St. Mary’s Gardens’ will appear in all street naming documentation and street nameplates as ‘St Marys Gardens’. Names that would lead to variations in the use of punctuation are unacceptable. And for the same reason South Somerset has ruled that “street names will not end in ‘s’, where it can be construed as either a possessive or plural. For example, Bennetts Close will be Bennett Close.”
That could make it impossible to name a street after a hero or benefactor named, for example, Simmons or Simons, even if he or she was a VC who had given their life for their country.
Dr Sian Harris, lecturer in English literature at the University of Exeter, said Mid Devon’s proposals were likely to lead to greater confusion.
She said: “Usually the best way to teach punctuation is to show practical examples of it – removing them from everyday life would be a terrible shame and make that understanding increasingly difficult. English is a complicated language as it is – removing apostrophes is not going to help at all.”
She said the proposals reflected “changes in the way people communicate”.
“On Twitter, for example, you cannot use punctuation in hashtags,” she said.
Former culture secretary and journalist Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, took to Twitter to condemn the plans. He wrote: “Tory Mid Devon Council bans the apostrophe to ‘avoid confusion’... Whole point of proper grammar is to avoid confusion!”