Some weeks ago a news story caught my attention. It was about The Apostrophiser, a ‘self-styled grammar vigilante’ who patrols towns correcting badly punctuated shop signs.
You know the kind of thing: ‘Kebab’s!’ ‘Kid’s Eat Free!’ ‘Karens Nail’s’.
I’ve posted my particular local favourite as an accompaniment to this piece.
When I read the story, my first thought was, “Hurrah, it’s not just me who’s upset by misplaced apostrophes! I’m not the only sad loon in the South West!”
My second was, “I’ll wager this man is over forty.”
My preoccupation with spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG) has gathered force in recent years.
I have known older people complain that the print in newspapers has shrunk, but I suspect this fixation with punctuation may also be something that creeps up on those of us in Executive Youth.
It’s either that, or the nation’s grasp of the possessive has genuinely deteriorated.
Much of my recent professional life has been spent working as a journalist, with other journalists.
Journalists are professional writers and communicators. They are paid to make sense.
Every single day that I spend in the office presents me with at least one criminal SPaG offence. Most of the time I just shield my eyes with my hand so that I can roll them in secret.
I don’t know if nothing is the right thing to do, but correcting mistakes runs the risk of my being seen as pedantic at best, patronising and superior at worst. (You should read what people have said about The Apostrophiser.)
And anyway, you can’t correct the written work of someone on a higher pay grade. I mean, who the bloody hell do I think I am?
I wish I could just relax about the whole thing; take the Generation Y approach. Who cares if the apostrophe is in the wrong place? We all know what they mean, more or less, don’t we?
And yes, we do. Even if it sometimes takes a couple of readings to work it out.
So what is the big deal?
We are so lucky to be native English speakers. Ours is the richest, most expressive language in the world. It has evolved to suit the myriad ideas and needs of the people who share it.
People who are paid to communicate have a responsibility to get it right.
‘More or less’ doesn’t cut it.
Let me be clear.
I am not bothered or remotely offended if Bob, of ‘BOBS [sic] CARS TAXI’s [sic]’ couldn’t tell his apostrophe from his elbow.
His grasp of the possessive is entirely irrelevant to his ability to drive. It won’t stop him from being a good, even a great, taxi driver.
I’d go as far as to say I bet Bob gives an amazing ride.
My problem is with the sign writer. The person paid to advertise Bob’s wares. The person responsible for not making Bob look a nob.
The person who, even in the execution of the sign, (note the undersized letter ‘S’, positioned discreetly high up in the hope presumably, that we won’t notice what’s going on there) seems a bit apologetic about his own grasp of the written language.
The professional person paid by Bob to get it right.
I entered a conversation on Twitter last week. It was a thread responding to a Twitter ad from Ford:
‘Book your Ford Motorcraft service this spring and keep your Ford performing at it’s [sic] best.’
(An) TonyM commented, “ ‘Its’. Fire your marketing team.”
I already knew I loved him. I even loved the cosy jumper he was sporting in his profile pic.
Aurelia responded, “Trouble is…. [sic] if they didn’t learn it at school they’re unlikely to learn it now.”
Already suffering hypertension thanks to the Ford marketing team, I now had to deal with Aurelia’s low expectations of her fellow human beings.
Her acceptance of ‘more or less.’
I argued my point that paid professionals have a responsibility to their clients, to the language and to the public to get it right.
There is so much that doesn’t make sense in the world right now. So many areas out of our control.
But we can take back control for Bob and for Ford. It is possible to differentiate between plurals and possessives.
We can make them at least, make sense.
Right, now back to that Twitter headline from the Independent: ‘Expert demands Ivanka Trump to remove her from her new book or stop being complicit.’
I mean, where to start?