A Town Without Apostrophes

First of all, thanks to everyone who sent me this story.  It’s become quite a popular news item!

The city of Birmingham, England, has done the unthinkable: they’ve banned apostrophes.

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.

It hurts my head and heart to read this.

The story goes on to talk about how some of the possessions signified by the apostrophe no longer exist, and that they should not be restored for that reason.  Kings Cross is no longer owned by the king, for example.

Let me say something.

I’ve said it time and time again: I hate it when people take the easy way out when it comes to grammar and spelling.  If everybody did that, can you imagine the state of writing this day?  It’s bad enough as it is!  (Caesars Palace comes to mind yet again…)

We can’t keep dumbing down our society to benefit the uneducated.  If we did that in all aspects of our lives, there would be no more quality literature.  Hell, Rob Schneider movies would be up for Oscars.

Birmingham, I really hope you think about exactly what you’re doing here.

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25 responses to “A Town Without Apostrophes

  1. Oh come on I think you’re being a bit too melodramatic about it. Ultimately, taking out the punctuation just changes the names of the street and probably saves a bit of money from the not having to paint the little nibbly bits on there (It all adds up in the end).
    It’s not dumbing things down it’s simplifying and since it is the ‘birthplace’ of the English language, who better to make the changes. Ha!
    King’s Cross is now Kings Cross would you be unable to locate the street given the new spelling?
    I say we dispose of redundant letters as well and get back to a phonetic alphabet. Why do we need 2 letters that make the same sound??!!! If it sounds like ‘F’ make it an ‘F’ and be away with the ‘PH’ or ‘GH’! Would a Phone be less of a Fone or would you be any less TUFF for using it??!! Heck just TUF!

  2. It seems to me it would cost more money to replace all the old signs with apostrophe-free signs.

  3. I agree that this is a silly move by the town of Birmingham. You know that I’m always willing to defend poetic license when it comes to artistic creations (including brand names, slogans, and the like), but “old fashioned” and “confusing” don’t seem like legitimate reasons to drop punctuation in a non-creative context. This example is particularly troublesome since the omission changes the meaning of the text.

    You also know that since you brought up Caesars Palace, I’m going to give you a hard time about it. It’s fairly well-reported that the lack of apostrophe was a deliberate move by the owner to make Caesars an attributive, not a possessive, indicating that every guest is a king. I think it’s perfectly legit.

    Final note: I was secretly hoping for a misused apostrophe in the article. One it’s/its mix-up would have just put the whole thing over the top!

  4. What about the history associated with the original names? Although King’s Cross no longer belongs to the king, perhaps there will be a day when no one will remember that it once did. The name was a reminder of the history of the area. The apostrophe is historical as well as grammatical.

  5. The English language has always been a Hodge podge of crap. There are different dialects, pronunciations, and words used by small groups of English speakers all over the world. I sometimes correct people on their pronunciation of words, but it’s a rarity with me. As far as “dumbing down society” goes (doesn’t the use of my horrid apostrophes drive ya nuts? I said “ya” too) I have to show doctors and graduate students every day how to make themselves a cup of coffee simply because they have neither the patience or cognitive skills to overcome a blinking light. That and they can’t seem to read and comprehend the instructions. Please people, for the love of god get a life and stop being such snobbish bastards.

  6. This isn’t quite related, but I need to vent!
    I work with a girl who is a first-year English teacher. She is a very sweet person who loves both her job and her students. She has punctuation and spelling issues, however. She is a Facebook friend of mine and most of her status updates have a homophone or apostrophe issue. The first time she did it, I thought it was intentionally ironic, but now I know better. If new teachers can’t get it right, who will?

  7. I have an unrelated story to tell, but it’s along the same line as Monica D. A third grade teacher in my school began a lesson on homophones and had created examples (with word and illustration) for the students to see. To my GREAT surprise, I saw ‘pin’ and ‘pen’ paired together as homophones. Yes, I live in Texas, but still……..

  8. There is a simple explanation for the lack of apostrophes for the genitive case. They are being borrowed to make plurals of nouns.
    I find it so irritating when I see words like opportunity’s or The Smith’s.

  9. I know . . . I was shocked when this came on the news the other night, especially as an American teacher of English (living and teaching in England) who’d hoped to escape bad grammar in moving to England. Not so. It’s worse here. Didn’t sleep well that night — marked papers in my dreams. And the news report — made you think of Jay-Walking (Jay Leno) with the foolish things people on the street said when asked about apostrophes.

  10. I’ve always wondered why certain institutions get the possessive, and others don’t.

    Why is it St. John’s University, but not Brigham Young’s University?

  11. so why dont we just quit using punctuation altogether and maybeevenspacesbecausewhocaresanyhow
    *snark*

  12. I can only say this

    Keep up the good work !

    The people who have written “lighten up” may well think that near enough is good enough.

    Surely we should be aiming higher, to be striving for clearer written English.

    The rules are there to provide us with some degree of commonality that when we try to write ideas they can be expressed in a form that is universally recognisable.

    Oh well, one lives in hope

  13. Spanish is my native language but because my grammar, both in it and English, has always been very good I’m sort of a grammar snob, so I’m appalled at seeing things like this intentional omission of apostrophes. To me, using a language correctly helps avoid confusion, so I cannot understand the reasoning behind this change.
    For those who cannot understand this, my brain, regardless of how fast it does it, is still translating words for me so I cannot help noticing and being annoyed when the wrong one is used because sometimes it throws me off.

    And I wonder, what’s next??? Will we have to deal with trying to decipher which is “it’s” vs. “its” (and so on and so forth)? I’m driven nuts already by “their/there, your/you’re” used improperly! The English language is already badly misused by everyone and if England decides to do this, what will happen to it over time???

  14. OK, I made mistakes above…. grrr! (LOL) That I can see now, I missed a comma (and a space between paragraphs…) and wrote “badly misused”, maybe that’s a redundancy but in this case, maybe not…. My excuse is an interruption while I was trying to think. ;-)

  15. Kevin Morehouse

    “We can’t keep dumbing down our society to benefit the uneducated.”

    More like catering to the uneducated rather than benefitting.

  16. i’m all for correct grammar and spelling. but we also need to make room for the evolution of language. just because one does not like it, it does not neccessarily mean it’s wrong or bad. think of all the american words that have changed from its european counterparts (e.g., colour, mechanisation, etc.). dropping the apostrophes in street names need not mean we are indulging in bad grammar. we could simply be altering the name. afterall, was “sears” ever “sear’s”? (well, in this case, it never was since “sears” was a person’s name.) but my point is, in 100 year’s time, no one will know. or care.

  17. @Eric Jay – Birmingham is not a town! It’s England’s second city. I live here and while at first I was fittingly horrified at the very suggestion of removing the apostrophe – this is England! If we don’t use correct grammar, who will?! I very quickly realised that many of the ill-fated apostrophes I never knew to exist. Kings Norton, Acocks Green… I have spoken to a number of people who likewise thought these place names to be apostrophe-less. That might be a sad indictment of society but I don’t believe changing the signs will bring forth anything that hasn’t already happened.

    Personally I think just because we don’t always use the apostrophes doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be included on official signage. However, the article I read pointed out that America did away with apostrophes in place names long ago so what was that about an eye and a speck?

  18. @Latinainwpb – Good for you! I’m very impressed by your proficiency in English given the fact that you have to translate back and forth between Spanish and English.

  19. This bugs me, too. How can they change people’s addresses just because they think apostrophes are out of style? And I don’t buy the whole “confused GPS” story at all.

  20. I don’t understand why they began phasing it out to begin with. What problems was the apostrophe causing them in 1950? How much can a tiny stroke of paint really cost? The part that really gets me is the fact that they banned apostophes entirely. What if I wanted to open up Jeri’s bookstore? What do they have against that???

    P.S.- SURELY Todd jests.

  21. Awesome to see I’m not the only one that’s outraged. I have my own rant on my wordpress.
    Revolt.

  22. I agree, but please do not add to it. You fail to follow the if/then condition in your sentences. If blah blah blah, then blah blah blah… You casually drop the “then,” (I’m using the word as a word)… I type this in response to the casually dropped apostrophes… Everyone casually drops stuff… Elipses

  23. Australia has already dropped the apostrophe from most of our town and street names as well. I don’t know why, when you consider that most of the towns down here have indigenous names and can sometimes be incredibly hard to pronounce let alone spell! Mamungkukumpurangkuntjunya Hill anyone?

  24. I’ve lived here in Birmingham for 20 years and I’m proud that my adopted city is making a stand about this. I’m a bit of a pedant myself, and in an ideal world it’d be nice to keep all the apostrophes. The reality though is that the possessive apostrophe is a right royal pain in the backside that most of the population doesn’t have a clue how to get right, and we ought to phase it out.

  25. Cummon ya’ll fooks … whts d matterr ??? yooh fooks dont need to waste ur tym on this silly thing … xD

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