Its A Catastrophe For The Apostrophe In Britain


LONDON (AP) - On the streets of Birmingham, the queen's English
is now the queens English.

England's second-largest city has decided to drop apostrophes from all its street signs, saying they're confusing and old-fashioned.

But some purists are downright possessive about the punctuation mark.

It seems that Birmingham officials have been taking a hammer to grammar for years, quietly dropping apostrophes from street signs
since the 1950s. Through the decades, residents have frequently launched spirited campaigns to restore the missing punctuation to signs denoting such places as "St. Pauls Square" or "Acocks Green."

This week, the council made it official, saying it was banning the punctuation mark from signs in a bid to end the dispute once and for all.

Councilor Martin Mullaney, who heads the city's transport scrutiny ommittee, said he decided to act after yet another interminable debate into whether "Kings Heath," a Birmingham suburb, should be rewritten with an apostrophe.

"I had to make a final decision on this," he said Friday. "We keep debating apostrophes in meetings and we have other things to do."

Mullaney hopes to stop public campaigns to restore the apostrophe that would tell passers-by that "Kings Heath" was once owned by the monarchy.

"Apostrophes denote possessions that are no longer accurate,
and are not needed," he said. "More importantly, 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."

But grammarians say apostrophes enrich the English language.

"They are such sweet-looking things that play a crucial role in
the English language," said Marie Clair of the Plain English ociety, which campaigns for the use of simple English. "It's
always worth taking the effort to understand them, instead of
ignoring them."

Mullaney claimed apostrophes confuse GPS units, including those
used by emergency services. But Jenny Hodge, a spokeswoman for
satellite navigation equipment manufacturer TomTom, said most users
of their systems navigate through Britain's sometime confusing
streets by entering a postal code rather than a street address.

She said that if someone preferred to use a street name - with
or without an apostrophe - punctuation wouldn't be an issue. By the
time the first few letters of the street were entered, a list of
matching choices would pop up and the user would choose the

A test by The Associated Press backed this up. In a search for
London street St. Mary's Road, the name popped up before the
apostrophe had to be entered.

There is no national body responsible for regulating place names
in Britain. Its main mapping agency, Ordnance Survey, which
provides data for emergency services, takes its information from
local governments and each one is free to decide how it uses

"If councils decide to add or drop an apostrophe to a place
name, we just update our data," said Ordnance Survey spokesman
Paul Beauchamp. "We've never heard of any confusion arising from
their existence."

To sticklers, a missing or misplaced apostrophe can be a major

British grammarians have railed for decades against
storekeepers' signs advertising the sale of "apple's and pear's,"
or pubs offering "chip's and pea's."

In her best-selling book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," Lynne
Truss recorded her fury at the title of the Hugh Grant-Sandra
Bullock comedy "Two Weeks Notice," insisting it should be "Two
Weeks' Notice."

"Those spineless types who talk about abolishing the apostrophe
are missing the point, and the pun is very much intended," she

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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