1’st Choice HGV,s

Eats, shoots & leaves

I’ve given up on the apostrophe.

In fact I gave up on it about four years ago when I realised that correcting the spelling and punctuation in a set of slides put out by the guy that god reports to was (a) rude (b) pointlessly picky and (c) quite possibly career-limiting.

Now, instead of wincing at erratic apostrophes I merely collect them.

The three most recent and most extreme examples are:

  • HGV,s
  • 1’st Choice
  • Madra’s Curry

HGV,s was on a matrix sign on a motorway and it’s splendid because the punctuation in question isn’t even an apostrophe.  1’st Choice is a taxi firm.  I assume that the chef in the pub isn’t called Madra.

Apostrophes are traditionally used in two circumstances:

  1. to show that something has been cut out (cannot becomes can’t, and so on) and
  2. to show that someone owns something (The Business Analyst’s Blog).

This second use is fiddly when you are dealing with plurals (Boys’ Toys / Children’s Books) and that makes people nervous.  They know they’re confused by apostrophes and plurals and they bung ’em in when they think no-one’s looking and hope for the best.  For years Over-Educated of Tunbridge Wells has raged about the increasing use of the apostrophe to handle awkward plurals (Avocado’s), but even Lynn Truss acknowledges that the apostrophe is a useful solution to the tricky problem of how to pluralise abbreviations (HGV’s, PC’s).  Language is extreme democracy so it’s just a matter of time.

However, I take the radical view that the apostrophe has no business getting itself muddled up with possessives in the first place.  In German, where so much of our language came from, they have no truck with apostrophes: they just add the -s on the end of a posessive (Bens Blog) and are done with it.  I’m convinced the possessive apostrophe sneaked into English in the early days of printing when punctuation was a free for all.

I still use the apostrophe the way I was taught to, but deep in my heart I don’t really care.

For a funny and accessible introduction to punctuation read Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves.  We disagree about the apostrophe, but it’s still a useful book if you write documents or prepare slides.

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