Mid Devon District Council ban apostrophes from street signs
By Western Morning News | Saturday, March 16, 2013, 06:30
A local authority has sparked fury among lovers of the English language by banning apostrophes from street names to avoid "confusion".
A right royal row: A sign without an apostrophe in Tiverton
Mid Devon District Council says an unofficial policy of excluding the punctuation mark is already in place and other Westcountry authorities freely admit they follow suit.
But its move to formalise the position has outraged many traditionalists, who have accused it of "murdering" the apostrophe and being "contemptuous of the English language".
John Richards, founder and chairman of the Apostrophe Protection Society, formed in 2001, said the decision was "disgusting".
"It hasn't got anything to do with confusion, I think it's to do with a lack of respect for the English language," said the 89-year-old former newspaper sub editor.
"Not far from the council's offices are school teachers who are doing their nut trying to teach children grammar.
"They could argue 'why should we bother about apostrophes, the council doesn't'. It sets a terrible example."
And Steve Jenner, of the Plain English Campaign, said: "There is no need to murder the apostrophe, it is very much needed in the English language."
The Conservative council says it has failed to correctly mark a possessive name – such as King's Crescent – for years.
Officials say only three streets in the district currently carry the mark – Beck's Square and Blundell's Avenue, both in Tiverton, and St George's Well in Cullompton.
The new policy was presented in a report earlier this week by the council's head of information technology . Councillors are due to vote on its adoption on March 28.
Other Devon councils show a similar indifference to the requirements of grammar, and some confusing anomalies.
Teignbridge District Council does not use the apostrophe and North Devon District Council said, though it does not operate an official policy, it did not have a single example of a street name ending with an apostrophe followed by the letter 's'. More confusingly, Torbay Council omits the mark unless the street sign spells out a proper name, so Queens Road could easily lead into St Mary's Street.
Cornwall, however, said it faithfully renders the official address on the sign and carries the punctuation.
The move follows the announcement from book retailer Waterstones last year to remove the punctuation from its brand name – other large retailers, such as Sainsbury's, retain the apostrophe.
Dr Sian Harris, lecturer in English literature at the University of Exeter, said the proposals were likely to lead to greater confusion. She said: "Usually the best way to teach about punctuation is to show practical examples of it – removing them from everyday life would be a terrible shame and make that understanding increasingly difficult."
Proofreader Mary de Vere Taylor, of Ashburton, said missing apostrophes – like St Andrews Close, Ashburton and Bakers View, Newton Abbot – make her "shudder".
"It's almost as though somebody with a great big eraser is literally trying to erase punctuation from our consciousness," she said.
Mid Devon council's communications manager Andrew Lacey said: "Our proposed policy on street naming and numbering covers a whole host of practical issues, many of which are aimed at reducing potential confusion over street names. Although there is no national guidance that stops apostrophes being used, for many years the convention we've followed here is for new street names not to be given apostrophes."