Say it aint so. I dont believe it. I cant believe it. I wont believe it. The apostrophe has had it’s day. Telegraph reader, are you twitching? Are you already reaching for your red pen and carefully correcting my copy? Ain’t! Don’t! Can’t! Won’t! Its! If you are, then the battle is not yet lost. There’s life in the old apostrophe yet.
That’s the message we keepers of the punctuation faith must send to John Richards, founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society. After nearly 20 years as patron saint of possessives, contractions and omissions, Mr Richards has admitted defeat.
“The barbarians have won,” he has declared. In a sorrowful statement on the society’s website, Mr Richards wrote: “Fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English language. We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!”
At 96, Mr Richards, a former newspaper sub-editor (good man), can be forgiven for flagging. It must be a weary business sending endless tickings-off to correct the errant apostrophes of ungrateful butchers, grocers and coffee-shop owners. Oh dear, I’m having doubts now. Should that be “of butchers’, grocers’ and coffee-shop owners’”? Summon the subs!
Apostrophes certainly take a bit of thought. Do you mind your ps and qs or p’s and q’s? Do you keep lists of dos and don’ts or do’s and don’t’s? And why Waterstones and Selfridges but Sainsbury’s and McDonald’s? We need sticklers like Mr Richards to guide us.
A chalkboard proclaiming “Best Banana’s 6 for a £” is ungainly, but it isn’t the end of the world. What, though, are we to make of the headline “Politicians Romp with Nightclub Girl”? Is that just the one politician? Or a whole party of romping politicians? An apostrophe changes the story.
Indeed, apostrophes can tell whole histories. If you’ve ever wondered why Cambridge has a King’s College, but a Queens’ College, it’s because King’s College was founded by King Henry VI while Queens’ College was founded first in 1446 by Margaret of Anjou and then founded again in 1465 by her rival Elizabeth Woodville. So, one king, two queens.
What really got Mr Richards’s spirits down was that in the Apostrophe Protection Society’s heyday, supporters were sending as many as 50 letters and emails a week pointing out the most egregious examples: “Happy holiday’s”, “Chicken’s and egg’s”, “Tiles, toilets, tool’s”, “Communion dress’s and veil’s”, “Beauty care that let’s me be me”, “No dog’s”, “Four Season’s nudist resort”, “Leader of the House of Lord’s”, “Lot’s to choose from”, “Cocktail’s”, and, sensitive readers look away now, “Honk if your horny.” Lately, Mr Richards has been sent just one apostrophe horror a month and so he has concluded that the punctuation fight is over and that Tesco’s “Tropical Fruit Pavlova’s” have won. Not if I know my Telegraph readers.
Who will take up the baton? Who will mount the barricades? Who will sneak out to the corner shop in the dead of night with a pot of Tippex to right the banner promising: “new’s and magazines”? Send your howlers to the Letters Editor and should you spot one in this piece… Well, to apostroph-err is human, to forgive divine.