Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Apostrophalypse Now

Apparently, Birmingham has decided to remove all apostrophes from its street signs.

Yes. You read that correctly: Birmingham—Birmingham, England that is, in case you were wondering if this was a non-English Birmingham with therefore a more casual relationship to the English language—is banishing the apostrophe. From its street signs. So “King’s Heath” becomes “Kings Heath” … which is a pretty significant semantic shift, when you think about it, changing it from a heath owned by the king to a heath where kings congregate to do … I don’t know, whatever kings do when they gather in large numbers.

Why have they done this? Principally, because this has apparently been a bone of contention for years. “We keep debating apostrophes in meetings,” a city councilor declared, “and we have other things to do.” Well, speaking as a veteran of English department meetings, I can understand the frustration of debating grammatical minutiae, but … seriously? You spend your council meetings debating apostrophes?

The anti-apostrophe advocates claim that apostrophes are “confusing and old-fashioned.” The same city councilor said “They confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don't want to have an A-level (high school diploma) in English to find it.”

Again … seriously? Just how easily confused do you have to be in order to get turned around by an apostrophe?

Actually, I think navigation will be a lot more difficult without the apostrophe. Just think of all the people looking for a building on King’s Heath, who wind up going to the wrong end of the city and wandering confusedly among the kings gathered at Kings Heath. It will be chaos.

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