Why On Earth Drop The Apostrophe ‘S

apostropheIn England, Cambridge City Council has decided to drop the apostrophe on all new signs in the city. This is their statement:

“It was decided that in order to avoid potential confusion over incorrectly punctuated street names that the use of the apostrophe would no longer be used on new street name plates in Cambridge.”

Really! The city of Cambridge, home to Cambridge University, one of the world’s leading seats of higher education; surely those who live in Cambridge can’t be flummoxed by a mere apostrophe. Anybody with a little sense knows that without the apostrophe, meaning is changed, and it’s there precisely to clear up the confusion they speak of.

In my book a statement like this is once again one of those mindless lazy shortcuts we seem see in everything now days, disposing of all that is valued, tried and tested. I wonder how long it will take  before the announcement is made that, “In order to clear up confusion the word ‘asked’ is now to become ‘axed.’ Instead of “He asked me” it will now be pronounced as, “He axed me.” And lately we’ve been hearing this crazy little phrase all over the place.

Talk about confusion.


About Don

I love life. Sometimes it makes sense, other times not. Discerning its underlying patterns and beauty always provides great reward and meaning and is a passion I ineptly follow. I feel deeply attached to nature and love the sea with its distinct moods and colour and find walking along its beaches wonderfully inspiring. Writing, sketching and photography is a sheer joy for me and the blog is one of the places I am able to express these pursuits.
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34 Responses to Why On Earth Drop The Apostrophe ‘S

  1. I agree absolutely with you! As a retired teacher of English, it really irritates me that a council would choose to dumb down in this way! How will anyone ever learn if the example on the street is wrong? 🙂


  2. Hudson Howl says:

    Okay, here I ago out on the limb. I have to be different.

    Though Cambridge may have shot themselves in the foot in their explanation. I tend to side with them. When it comes to signage, the use of the apostrophe when naming a street is not that important. Will the sky fall? I don’t think so.

    Don’s Way or Dons Way. As long an ambulance makes it to the correct address where the occupant is suffering a heart attack is all that matters.

    Dropping it from formal usage, a whole different kettle of fish.
    ‘There it matters’. Or. ‘There’s no such matter’.

    Words and meaning change constantly. New words added on a daily bases -most of which unbeknownst. While other new usages and words take over to better define our ability to communicate properly and decisively.


    • Don says:

      I like it when you go different on me Hudson, even though I’m tempted to saw off the limb 🙂 When it begins with something small like signage, there’s no telling what else it can spread in to. Things have a tendency to start small and grow in to something unmanageable. Words and meaning do change constantly and I’m for that, but not for mindless change for the sake of change. Not all change is constructive. Hope you’re still on that limb.


      • Hudson Howl says:

        Just a second I’ll fetch the ladder for ya Don. Now make sure your on the ‘right side’ of the cut line or we’ll both go down together.

        Oh am with you on this, however, things like this, though it adds to the absurdity of the stupid ‘shtuffs’ hatched when a group of the ‘enlighten’ huddle together to justify their existence -it is more annoyance than a real problem.

        Doesn’t surprise me this would happen in Cambridge, I suspect it would not happen in a little village named Punkiedoodle’s Corners, for example (note apostrophe ‘s’), where efficiency and common sense still works, as does the notion of accountability.

        There is so much wrong, in so many places around the world, causing disillusion amongst the young who must face the challenges ahead having never been properly educated -a problem not an annoyance.

        If using Cambridge’s decision draws attention to the fact that common sense is declining rapidly then I think we’re both on the same limb -brace yourself.


      • Don says:

        Thanks for the ladder Hudson. 🙂


    • rdn32 says:

      The problem with the council’s explanation is, I suspect, that whoever wrote it was too polite to give a clearer explanation. As an inhabitant of Cambridge, permit me to suggest how this might have been written:

      “People get confused about apostrophes. This is particularly true in Cambridge, even for people who feel comfortable with the rules governing their usage, since it often isn’t clear how many kings, queens or maids are referred to in various Cambridge street names. When we make mistakes – being human, we inevitably do – we get picked up on it: it seems the world is full of dull-witted pedants with too much time on their hands. This creates pressure to fix mistakes, wasting both time and money without doing any earthly good to anyone. We have therefore decided, as a matter of policy, to avoid using apostrophes on new name plates. We know that we will have to endure a spot of self-important clucking from the aforementioned pedants; but after that we will never have to give the matter more than a moment’s though ever again. Rejoice!”

      As a taxpayer, I am happy with the idea that people in the council have more pressing things to deal with than whether, for example, it should be “Queen’s College” or “Queens’ College”. (In case you were wondering, the formal title of that college is “The Queen’s College of St Margaret and St Bernard, commonly called Queens’ College, in the University of Cambridge.” As their website dryly points out: “The use of the apostrophe in English to indicate the possessive is of no great antiquity.)


      • Don says:

        I deeply appreciate you taking the time and sharing your view in such a thoughtful and incisive way. It certainly enables us to grasp another perspective on the issue and deepen our understanding of it. I’m just not sure what is meant when you speak about confusion in using apostrophes. The way it is used will always convey whether it is plural or singular. It’s precisely the correct use of the apostrophe that clears up the confusion you describe. Without it confusion reigns. Again, thank you for sharing.


  3. ptero9 says:

    I agree Don, it is important, or at the very least, by not being willing to make the distinction, we show our willingness to blur meaning and fall prey to a culture in which it doesn’t matter what you say because we no longer care about disctinction and nuance.

    Slowly, over time, we lose touch with the past when we make linguistic rule changes. In losing a common language, we lose the ability to understand voices of the past.

    We do take for granted in our short life span that “it doesn’t matter,” because we who live at the moment of the change can still translate, but what of those who are just now being born? How is their world and their relationship to language affected?



  4. Holli says:

    That is so sad. I see the creep too. Especially having a teenager in the house. He’s not too bad (because I’m constantly pointing it out) but many of his friends and then some use the word ‘like’ as though it belongs everywhere. It’s right up there with nails down a chalkboard.


  5. Each of the above perspectives is understandable and likely, acceptable. One not mentioned, Don, which is common in today’s developed societies is that politicians and elected (or appointed) officials effect change simply for the sake of change. Often there is little need or rationale behind the decision. This could easily be a contributing factor.


  6. It’s a true dilemma, Don, where neither option is especially good. In Colorado, where we already have many Hispanic and Native American Indian road and street signs, the use of apostrophes is a secondary problem.
    Even Colorado Springs, at the base of Pike’s Peak–or is it Pikes Peak?…it’s spelled both ways–English teachers still fight with editors and professors who say content is what counts, even if the writer incorrectly uses it’s for its, affect for effect, their or there for they’re, compliment for complement, and so on.
    Content and correctness…can’t both be important?


    • Don says:

      The issues you raise here Marylin make one realize just what a complex issue it can become in the changing demographics of the world. But I still believe there has to be be some kind of standard or else we have what Debra described:

      “…we show our willingness to blur meaning and fall prey to a culture in which it doesn’t matter what you say because we no longer care about disctinction and nuance.”


  7. I used to have a girlfriend who would have fits at seeing a “drive friendly” sign. I suppose if they are going to trash parts the American landscape with signage it should be with correct grammar.


  8. ladyfi says:

    Really? I’m so sad to hear my Alma Mater is going along with this dumbing down of people and language…


  9. Oh for goodness sake, what nonsense. Next thing you know, we’ll be going back to cave paintings so that we can avoid spelling mistakes.


  10. darrelhoff says:

    a good laugh. But also a sombre truth; why are we trying to make shortcuts of all of life… a pity…


  11. Robert says:

    I’m with you Don. I heard that : ; ( ) are on their way out because the modern world doesn’t know how to use them correctly!



  12. We need to adapt to the changes even though they are painful. The English language is not the easiest of languages to learn in any event.


    • Don says:

      I’m afraid Jenny there are certain changes we don’t need to adapt to. We don’t adapt simply for the sake of adapting. We better know and understand what we are adapting to.


  13. safia says:

    Oh, thank you for this, Don. It really gave me a laugh as I’m very much a fan of getting apostrophes right. However … here it comes … in the heady 1980s when, as a young thing I took advanced typewriting, completed the RSA Personal Assistant’s Diploma, and the LCCI Private Secretary’s Diploma, we were advised that apostrophes were dropped in addresses, ie, when typing envelopes and/or the address of the recipient at the top of a letter. These were also the days of Tippex of course, but … maybe Cambridge have got it right after all. Don’t shoot the messenger BTW! LOL.


    • Don says:

      Thanks Safia. Now that’s so interesting. Maybe they have got it right 🙂 Wow, Tippex – we’ve come such a long way. Thanks for your great comment.


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