Have We Lost the Apostrophe?

When something needs a protection society, you can be sure it is well on its way to extinction. And so is the case with the apostrophe. But ironically, the Apostrophe Protection Society (APS) in Britain has declared itself dead and buried while the apostrophe it created itself to protect is still breathing—though barely.

The Society was founded in 2001 with “the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark”. The Society’s founder Mr. John Richards, who has fought valiantly for two decades in the service of the apostrophe, is closing it down for two reasons. First is that he is cutting down on his commitments—given that he is 96, that is perfectly understandable. But surely, there may be, somewhere in the world, some younger champion of the post-office comma? (In some parts of India, the apostrophe is referred to as the post-office comma). The other is disillusionment with the state of punctuation—he feels that less and less people and organizations care about the proper use of the apostrophe.

What a tragedy! The apostrophe is an essential part of punctuation. Though misused, the mind boggles when one thinks of the confusion we would face without it. The Society laid down three key tenets in this regard: (1) use apostrophes to denote missing letters; (2) use them to indicate possession—except in the case of possessive adjectives like ‘its’. They also had a strict rule about when not to use them—never use them to indicate plurals.

At any rate, the announcement of the closing down of the APS has elicited so much interest that the website has not been able to take the traffic over the last few days, and is temporarily replaced with a message that the full site will be back soon. And the reassuring thing is that the site is not being closed down and will remain open for reference. (http://www.apostrophe.org.uk/)

RIP APS. But let us hope RIP Apostrophe is still some time away!

See also our older  post ‘Emma Watson’s ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’ Moment’ https://wordpress.com/post/millennialmatriarchs.com/21


Green Amber Red

Imagine that you are cruising along a highway; enjoying the smooth flow and passage of time and miles. On the other hand, imagine you are in a city, driving at the required speed, eagerly crossing the green lights, slowing at the amber, and every now and then, stopping at the red light. There is a sense in both the experiences; in both cases, a different kind of pace is set.

The act of writing could perhaps be compared to this. Every writer sets their own pace and rhythm of how the words flow. For some the long uninterrupted cruise is the mode of choice; others prefer the ordered structure of breaking the flow, sometimes with a pause and sometimes with a longer halt—from green to amber to red. It is the punctuation marks that represent these traffic lights.

Many writers have expressed their thoughts on these—essential parts of tImage result for image punctuation marks cartoonhe tools of their trade. Some have celebrated punctuation as the friendly spirits whose bodiless presence nourishes the body of language”,  while another believes that each writer has a lifetime quota of them, to be used judiciously. I myself have always enjoyed the mental exercise of fixing the appropriate place for the appropriate mark, and am always attracted by how authors perceive and practice the use of punctuation marks.

I recently read a delightful articulation of this in an article which had excerpts from an essay titled Notes on Punctuation by Lewis Thomas. Thomas was an American physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, educator, researcher and teacher. Amidst his serious research and writing, Thomas applied equal affectionate attention to the traffic signals, giving each one a distinct character and identity.

Sharing some in his own words.

, The commas are the most useful and usable of all the stops. It is highly important to put them in place as you go along. If you try to come back after doing a paragraph and stick them in the various spots that tempt you you will discover that they tend to swarm like minnows into all sorts of crevices whose existence you hadn’t realized and before you know it the whole long sentence becomes immobilized and lashed up squirming in commas. Better to use them sparingly, and with affection, precisely when the need for each one arises, nicely, by itself.

; I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added; it reminds you sometimes of the Greek usage. It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.

: Colons are a lot less attractive, for several reasons: firstly, they give you the feeling of being rather ordered around, or at least having your nose pointed in a direction you might not be inclined to take if left to yourself, and, secondly, you suspect you’re in for one of those sentences that will be labeling the points to be made: firstly, secondly and so forth, with the implication that you haven’t sense enough to keep track of a sequence of notions without having them numbered.

!!! Exclamation points are the most irritating of all. Look! they say, look at what I just said! How amazing is my thought! It is like being forced to watch someone else’s small child jumping up and down crazily in the center of the living room shouting to attract attention. If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn’t need a mark to point it out. And if it is really, after all, a banal sentence needing more zing, the exclamation point simply emphasizes its banality!

As for me, I do so love the comma, and simply cannot resist the !!!




Emma Watson’s ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’ Moment

Last week, Emma Watson was seen with a tattoo at a red carpet event. The tattoo said ‘Times Up’ and was in support of the movement against sexual harassment in the workplace which is snowballing, and is a follow on from the #metoo campaign.

Laudable intent. But less-than-laudable grammar!  What really caught everyone’s eye was that the tattoo said ‘Times Up’, rather than ‘Time’s Up’. With her characteristic sense of humour, Watson responded to the criticisms with a tweet: “Fake tattoo proofreading position available. Experience with apostrophes a must.”

Everyone is talking about it! I am happy for Watson, I am happy for the movement. But most of all, I am happy for the APOSTROPHE! Difficult for a punctuation mark to get red carpet attention, but the apostrophe’s done it (yes, and I think I got the apostrophe right, see rules below!).

So maybe we should give it some attention too! When you are out tomorrow, look out for how often the apostrophe is misused. I find more ‘errors of commission’, as compared to Watson’s ‘error of omission’. For instance, within 50 metres of my house is ‘Shri Ganesh Tyre’s’. Not much further down the road is ‘Sai Krishna Sweet’s and Snack’s’. (Raghu tells me that for some reason, in his school, they used to refer to it as a ‘post office comma’).

It may be worth taking a few moments to briefly review the usage (no guarantee we will still  get it right!):

The apostrophe is used in two situations (and I quote all the rules below from https:// en.oxforddictionaries.com/ punctuation/ apostrophe): (1) to show that a thing or person belongs or relates to someone or something: instead of saying the party of Sudha, you can write Sudha’s party; and (2) an apostrophe is used to show that letters or numbers have been omitted. For instance, I’m – short for I am, or he’ll – short for he will.

The biggest controversy about apostrophes is in the its and it’s!

These are the rules to remember:

  • Its(without an apostrophe) means ‘belonging to it’: The dog wagged its tail.
  • It’s(with an apostrophe) means ‘it is’ or ‘it has’: It’s been a long day.

Wondering if apostrophes are really worth a blog? Well Lynne Truss has written a whole book on punctuation and it was a bestseller! Do read her ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

And for more on the apostrophe, including the county which has banned it, go to