LONDON — To grammarians’ delight, officials in southwest England who had considered expunging apostrophes from street signs threw out the idea Thursday and vowed to follow the rules of proper English.
The proposed ban on the mild-mannered apostrophe drew criticism from throughout Britain and media attention from as far away as Australia.
Proponents of good grammar lambasted the Mid Devon District Council for even thinking of killing off such a useful punctuation mark and for lowering the standards of civic discourse.
Apparently deeming the proposal a fool’s game, the council’s Cabinet ordered staff to come up with a revised plan for road signage that would save the apostrophe from the chop.
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“We made absolutely clear we wouldn’t accept any policy that does away with apostrophes or indeed any other punctuation marks,” Peter Hare-Scott, the council’s leader, said in a telephone interview.
“As a public body … we have a duty to promote good English,” he said.
The original proposal suggested that eliminating the apostrophe would avoid “potential confusion.”
The little marks had begun disappearing from road signs in the Mid Devon area in recent years; the proposed ban would merely codify the practice, officials said.
Unveiled this month, the proposed ban sparked angry reactions throughout Britain. Apostrophe defender Charles Noon accused the Mid Devon District Council of massacring the language, adding, “It’s just sloppiness.”
He added that correct use of the apostrophe isn’t nitpicking; it can make a big difference, as in this sentence: “If you’re late for dinner, you can eat your son’s.”
“If you don’t put the apostrophe in ‘son’s,’ it’s cannibalism, isn’t it?” said Noon.
Indeed many critics of the ban insisted proper punctuation promotes clarity.
They also challenged the council to specify who would be confused by seeing a sign for King’s Crescent instead of Kings Crescent, apart from the fact the two renderings have different meanings. One language maven asked if a “war on commas” would be next.
Britain’s relationship with the apostrophe has been under severe strain for years.
Grammarians bemoan the plague known as “grocer’s apostrophe,” the common sight of signs in shops advertising “tomato’s” and “carrot’s” for sale.
Government agencies, businesses and charities constantly omit apostrophes or add them unnecessarily in their leaflets and posters, such as one flogging “men’s short’s.”
The council decision Thursday spurred praise from an important quarter: the Apostrophe Protection Society.
“I’m very glad that they had second thoughts,” said John Richards, founder of the group. “Once an official body starts saying, ‘Don’t do the apostrophes,’ it carries a lot of weight.”