Opinion

An apostrophe does not make that word plural. I promise.

By Sandy Lloyd

SANDY LLOYD IS BIG FAN OF PUNCTUATION

I have a cartoon pinned to the wall next to my desk at work.

It shows Apostrophe Man standing over a hapless cafe owner who is writing the word Specials on a blackboard outside his shop. But he has put an apostrophe between the l and the s (Special’s), in a misguided attempt to make the word plural.

Apostrophe Man intones solemnly: “I’ll have that chalk, thank you” as he seeks to rid the world of all errant apostrophes.

Apostrophe Man was created by Australian cartoonist Judy Horacek (she’s a regular contributor to the Age) and he is my hero.

Forget Superman. Far more important than saving the world with super-strength and flying, is saving the world’s punctuation — one apostrophe at a time.

As a newspaper sub-editor, I quite fancy myself as Apostrophe Woman — and I get to wield my grammatical superpower every day.

But it’s not just reporters who are on the receiving end of my apostrophe wrath.

Like Apostrophe Man, I long to grab the chalk — or a red pen — and fix all the wayward apostrophes on signs and menus that scream at me wherever I go.

There are far too many cappuccino’s and special’s and Friday’s and drink’s out there for my peace of mind.

(For the record, never use an apostrophe to make something plural — use it to show possession. So it should be one cappuccino and two cappuccinos. If the cappuccino is owning something — for instance, the cappuccino’s froth — then the apostrophe is correct. It serves other important purposes in word contractions, but plurals are where most of the mistakes happen.)

There is another cartoon that sums up this feeling of helplessness and despair I feel when confronted with a world full of misplaced apostrophes.

It’s called The Curse of High Apostrophe Intelligence and shows a person curled into a foetal position on the ground moaning “Make it stop” over and over again, in front of a fruit and vegetable shop covered in signs full of apostrophe mistakes. There are apple’s and lettuces’ and potato’s and special’s.

I know I’m not the only grammar nerd out there who desperately wants to edit apostrophe errors wherever they find them.

The internet is full of kindred spirits who are embracing their geekiness and shouting to the world “I will not go quietly into the dark of incorrect punctuation”.

The most famous of these grammar vigilantes is John Richards, who dedicated his life to stamping out the misuse of apostrophes.

In December, apostrophe lovers around the world were shattered when John announced he was closing down the Apostrophe Protection Society, which he founded in 2001 when he retired from a decades-long career as a newspaper reporter and sub-editor.

He declared that at the age of 96, he was cutting back on his commitments. But mainly it was because “fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English language”.

“We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won,” he said on his website.

John’s announcement generated a 600-fold increase in visits to his site and intense debate about the apostrophe, from those who hail it as “the heavy lifter that points sentences in the right direction” to those who think it’s time to get rid of the apostrophe from the English language.

The latter includes ABC Language researcher Tiger Webb, who said it was untrue there had been an increasing misuse of apostrophes.

“There was no golden age when people used apostrophes correctly,” Tiger said, adding John was “fighting a rearguard action” to try and save the apostrophe.

Tiger also said the debate was “so often framed as, ‘people are idiots, people are stupid if they don’t know how to use an apostrophe’.”

He said: “You don't have to maintain that if a greengrocer makes a mistake in a sign, they’re an idiot.”

I agree. I contend this isn’t about saying people are stupid because they can’t use an apostrophe correctly.

It’s about saying: learn a few simple rules about how to use apostrophes, and then the correct meaning of words and sentences can shine through. It’s no different to correctly spelling a word.

And I wish students were coming out of our schools and journalists out of our universities having been taught how to use an apostrophe.

In good news, the power of punctuation supporters has given the Apostrophe Protection Society a reprieve, although without John at the helm.

Penny Modra, the Laidback Linguist, is another passionate supporter of the apostrophe.

She told ABC Radio we need to know the important difference between:

“This plumbing business knows it’s crap” and “This plumbing business knows its crap”.

Long live the apostrophe!

I AM LISTENING...

To Daryl Braithwaite’s new song, Love Songs.

It’s been quite a while since my teenage crush released a single, and apparently this one was originally meant for Pink.

I hate Pink and love Daryl, so I’m glad he’s got it. To most people, Daryl Braithwaite is forever linked to 1990’s Horses, the song that has become a cultural anthem for all ages. I fell in love with him in the 1970s when he was the King of Pop and Sherbet’s front man.

His posters adorned my early teenage walls and owning Sherbet’s Life…Is For Living and Howzat albums (vinyl of course!) was the pinnacle of my existence.

I AM COUNTING DOWN...

ABC Classic Radio’s annual Classic 100.

This annual event is a treat for classical music lovers who vote for their favourite works, and great for those of us who are classical music ‘dabblers’.

This year the focus was Beethoven, to celebrate his 250th birthday. I love some of Ludwig’s stirring symphonies, but I’m not so keen on the piano concertos.

One of my all-time favourite pieces of music is the second movement from his Symphony No. 7 (that made it to number four).

Top spot went to Symphony No. 9 (most of us know it as Ode to Joy). You can still listen to it all on ABC Classic’s app.

I AM EATING...

Out in the real world again. Hooray!

I was back in a café for lunch on the first day Dan Andrews loosened the restrictions last week — and then I did it again twice more.

How wonderful it was to sit down with a friend (or in my case, three different friends) over a meal and coffee to reconnect with each other.

It was great to see the three different cafes I visited all following the social distancing rules with their tables, as well as taking names and phone numbers for future contact tracing if needed.

I don’t begrudge that for a second, if it means I can get back to some sort of normal.

I AM READING...

About poison mushrooms and people getting sick from eating them.

It’s an annual autumn story — people out foraging for wild mushrooms, picking the wrongs ones and becoming violently ill or dying as a result.

The stories are full of warnings to avoid yellow-staining and death cap mushrooms — in fact, avoid wild mushrooms altogether. I’m sure picking mushrooms used to be a simpler and safer activity.

Growing up on a farm, it used to be one of those things you ticked off the list each autumn — we loved picking mushrooms.

Not so keen on eating them as a kid, but the picking was fun!