World & Nation

British council could’ve dropped apostrophe, but didn’t

LONDON — To grammarians’ delight, local officials in southwestern England who’d considered expunging apostrophes from street signs threw out the idea Thursday and vowed to follow the rules of proper English.

The proposed ban on the mild-mannered apostrophe drew criticism from throughout Britain and media attention from as far away as Australia. Proponents of good grammar lambasted the Mid Devon District Council for even thinking of killing off such a useful punctuation mark and for lowering the standards of civic discourse.

Apparently deeming the proposal a fool’s game, the council’s Cabinet ordered staff to come up with a revised plan for road signage that would save the apostrophe from the chop.


“We made absolutely clear we wouldn’t accept any policy that does away with apostrophes or indeed any other punctuation marks,” Peter Hare-Scott, the council’s leader, said in a telephone interview. “As a public body ... we have a duty to promote good English.”

The original proposal suggested that eliminating the apostrophe would avoid “potential confusion.” The squiggly little marks had already begun disappearing from road signs in the Mid Devon area in recent years; the proposed ban would merely codify the practice, officials said.

But critics scoffed at the notion, insisting that proper punctuation promotes clarity. They also challenged the council to specify just who would be confused by seeing a sign for King’s Crescent instead of Kings Crescent – quite apart from the fact that the two renderings actually have different meanings.

“I’m very glad that they had second thoughts,” said John Richards, founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society. “Once an official body starts saying, ‘Don’t do the apostrophes,’ it carries a lot of weight.


“Absolutely the right thing,” he said of the decision to preserve the apostrophe. “A good move – I’m very pleased to hear it.”


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