The Apostrophe Posse Ride’s Again!
By Beth Quinn
Well, fellow fussbudgets, here we are together again.
You may recall that, back in 2004 (Holy Hyphenator! – Was it really that long ago?), I formed the Hudson Valley Chapter of the Apostrophe Preservation Society. Membership was open to anyone who sent me an apostrophe error spied in a public place, and I occasionally compiled the submissions for the edification of the uneducated who, no doubt, didn’t care a whit.
But WE did. WE cared. The Apostrophe Posse grew to be 150 members strong (a good number for such a thankless task, really), and we gradually branched out. A Spelling Sub-Committee was formed and ran wild, pointing out spelling errors on signs all over the mid-Hudson. (Frute for Sale was among the most memorable.)
Another loosely organized crowd concentrated on finding random acts of quoteness, such as this one, which appeared at the entrance of a Middletown restaurant: Restrooms for customer “use” only. (One shudders to think what the customers were actually doing in there.)
This was a tough crowd, whose members often had to turn on their own loved ones to rid the world of unnecessary quotation marks. I’ve done so myself, with the result of losing a friendly correspondent who always began her letters to me by writing Dear “Beth.” I asked her what she thought my real name was, and I never heard from her again.
Well, somebody has to maintain standards by losing friends, and the Apostrophe Posse has never shirked its duty. Therefore, today I renew the call to arms for my fellow picky punctuators. Come one, come all – the depostrifizers and the repostrifizers, the dequotifiers and the … well, I don’t know … shall we call them the spellies?
We are needed now more than ever. While we were all looking the other way this past year (on account of my being laid off – or, more formally, lain off), terrible things have been happening over in England where, as you might recall, we obtained all of our words (until lately when we got hola from Mexico).
First, there has been a major assault on the apostrophe in the city of Birmingham, England’s second largest city, where the queen’s English is now the queens English because the decision has been made to drop all apostrophes from street signs.
City officials claim that the apostrophes are confusing and old-fashioned, and they have been quietly removing them for decades, really. But it’s now official – no more apostrophes.
Said Councilor Martin Mullaney, who heads the city’s transport scrutiny committee, “Apostrophes confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don’t want to need an A-level (high school diploma) in English to find it.”
What a champion of morons! While it’s true that even the ignorant deserve to eat a meal in a restaurant, it just doesn’t seem fair to blame the
apostrophe for its misuse. I suppose if some drivers got confused about the speed limit, we’d just get rid of it?
Worse, educators in England are now jumping on the anti-rules bandwagon. Last month, it was announced that the entire United Kingdom is going to get rid of the “i before e except after c” rule because there are too many exceptions to it.
With this opening of Pandora’s box, people are practically pouring into the streets of London to throw their spelling books onto large bonfires. There are those who want to overhaul the entire English spelling system to get rid of its difficulties. Before you know it, text messaging will be setting the new standard in spelling, and we’ll be c-ing the last of tough homonyms, such as see and sea.
As you might expect, this has caused near apoplexy for traditionalists – myself among them – who fear we’ll soon be reading books with titles like 4 Hoom the Bell Toles.
So please, help me in this entirely futile endeavor of saving our punctuation and spelling rules, however confusing those rules may be. If we wanted things to be simple, we’d all be speaking French. (They hardly have any words in France but communicate, instead, through tone of voice and murmurs.)
If you spy an error, send it to me at email@example.com. If you can, take a picture and send that to me, too. There’s lots of room on the Internet for pictures.
And if you care to risk arrest, take along a magic marker wherever you may roam in order to fix offending punctuation, spelling and grammar. (You might consider keeping an extension ladder handy, too, for tall signs and billboards.) After your arrest, keep your eyes open for errors at the police station – and let me know how the officer takes it when you try to straighten him out. What fun we’ll have!
One last thought for today. The following poem will, no doubt, cause all purists to wonder what IS the world coming to, anyway, with the apparent and inexorable extinction of grammar rules. The poem first appeared in the British newspaper, The Guardian.
Windows Is Shutting Down
Windows is shutting down, and grammar are
On their last leg. So what am we to do?
A letter of complaint go just so far,
Proving the only one in step are you.
Better, perhaps, to simply let it goes.
A sentence have to be screwed pretty bad
Before they gets to where you doesnt knows
The meaning what it must of meant to had.
The meteor have hit. Extinction spread,
But evolution do not stop for that.
A mutant languages rise from the dead
And all them rules is suddenly old hat.
Too bad for we, us what has had so long
The best seat from the only game in town.
But there it am, and whom can say its wrong?
Those are the break. Windows is shutting down.
Beth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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