Apostrophes’ battle engulfs UK towns

The punctuation pogrom by several municipalities is apparently in response to central government

London: A bizarre battle is raging in towns across Britain between lovers of the English language and local councils that are culling the humble apostrophe from street signs. The historic university city of Cambridge was the latest in a series of places this year that have made the change, which transforms names such as King’s Road into Kings Road.

Cambridge was forced to backtrack after anonymous punctuation protectors mounted a guerrilla campaign, going out in the dead of night and using black marker pens to fill in the missing apostrophes.

The punctuation pogrom by several municipalities is apparently in response to central government advice aimed at helping the work of the emergency services. Earlier this year a teenager died of an asthma attack after an apostrophe error led to an ambulance going to the wrong address.

“National guidelines recommended not allocating new street names that required any punctuation, as, we gather, this was not well coped with by some emergency services’ software,” Tim Ward of Cambridge City Council said. “Given the public interest that this awakened we checked back on the national guidelines that we'd followed when reviewing our policy, and found that the guideline recommending against including punctuation in new street names had been dropped.”

In countries such as the US and Australia, apostrophes disappeared from street signs long ago. But moves to do the same in Britain have aroused the ire of the guardians of the English language. Kathy Salaman, director of The Good Grammar Company, a Cambridge based organisation that provides training to companies, said the issue was not one of pedantry but of upholding wider standards.

“If they take our apostrophes, commas will be next,” she said. “In Britain the tendency is now that if something is too difficult, let's get rid of it. Why are we trying to improve literacy when actually in real life people say it doesn’t really matter?” Ms Salaman defended the word warriors who had restored punctuation to street signs.

( Source : AFP )
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