First Person: Fiona Purnell

Fiona Purnell
Fiona Purnell

IT’S a real bugbear of mine.

To many it probably doesn’t really matter and many probably don’t even notice, but for me an apostrophe has to be in the right place.

It irritates me when I see it used incorrectly, so hearing at the weekend that Mid Devon District Council intended to drop it from street signs raised my hackles. It made me think ‘what next?’.

There’s frequent talk these days of whether as a society we are ‘dumbing down’.

I’d love to say we’re not, but the explanation given by the Council as to why it will drop the apostrophe seems to point heavily in that direction.

Of all the streets that come into that council’s remit, only three officially have an apostrophe in their name - Beck’s Square and Blundell’s Avenue in Tiverton, and St George’s Well in Cullompton.

New streets have not contained apostrophes for many years, but the Council was considering making it official policy.

Apparently it’s to avoid “potential confusion”.

I would have thought it more likely to avoid any chance of officers making grammatical mistakes on signs and their errors being picked up by members of the public.

Confusion?

Another explanation I would have expected is the little mark costs too much to include.

But to be honest, the explanation of “potential confusion” just leaves me baffled as I would have thought dropping the little punctuation mark would lead to more confusion.

If you know the rules of the apostrophe then no confusion should arise.

It’s designed to make things a little bit clearer.

Perhaps those keen to drop it should be back in class having another English lesson.

The apostrophe is necessary to indicate possession or in place of missing letters when two words are joined.

Without it how are we to know what is actually meant?

There are, no doubt, some of you reading this I’m sure who are wondering why I’m getting my knickers in a twist about such a small punctuation mark.

There are some sitting there saying ‘it’s only a street sign’.

Text talk

But think about it, if we decide it’s no longer needed for an every day object like a street sign, then what’s to stop it from being dropped from other things like packaging, in newspapers, shop signs and documents?

No sooner is it dropped from a street sign than it’s missing from every day life, lost forever, fading into the history books.

That would be a sad day.

Use of ‘text talk’ and email and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are already affecting people’s grammar skills as it is.

‘Text talk’ frequently sees the apostrophe dropped from words, and with people regularly using it, it creeps in to writing elsewhere.

I was always taught at school grammar and punctuation are important, and it’s still something I believe today.

Thankfully though, following all the publicity over the move, at the start of the week the leader of the Council has had a re-think and will move at the cabinet meeting that they keep the apostrophe in street signs.

I’m glad to see a change of heart, but does this mean they’ll go back and review their current signs and add the punctuation mark on those that should have it?