Thursday, January 12, 2012

Apostrophe disappears: world ends

Apostrophe-lovers are up in arms over Waterstones' ...Waterstone's's...the decision of Waterstone's bookshop to remove the apostrophe from its name. In a move that some punctuation purists have likened to the end of the world, Waterstone's (named so because it used to be the firm of one Tim Waterstone, therefore - like Sainsbury's and McDonald's - a possessive apostrophe) have decided to ditch the dinky little punctaution mark.

This article in the Daily Mail gives you more information and offers some hilariously unintentional punctuation errors in its readers' comments after the piece. One interesting angle is that the apostrophe is a useful shibboleth, allowing the (ahem) better-educated to look down upon their inferiors with wry disdain. But what use is the apostrophe? It's a relatively new invention, punctuation-wise, and doesn't conform to its own rules (it's ...its...see I'm confused now), but perhaps still serves a helpful disambiguating role in contractions like I'm and she'll, where the pronunciation of a word might be affected if there were no apostrophe.

We've looked at apostrophes before on this blog (here and here, for a start) and I'm increasingly of the view that they're dying and we should probably just get rid of them once and for all to save confusion. It's a good topic for ENGA3 Language Discourses questions (probably as part of Language Change) and would make a suitable topic for a Language Intervention on ENGA4 too.

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