by: Gwen Bloomsburg
Arguably the least understood element of the English language, the apostrophe is also a source of serious linguistic battles in these text-centric, Google-driven times. Most people consider the apostrophe punctuation, but others call it a diacritic, and linguist Geoffrey Pullum (2013) has claimed it’s “a 27th letter of the alphabet.”
What we can all agree on is that the apostrophe is endangered. Long ignored and misused, the curly character is correctly employed to indicate elision (as in contractions such as don’t, I’m, would’ve) and in possessives, as well as a few more esoteric uses. The term “greengrocer’s apostrophe” refers to incorrect placement of the mark in plural nouns, perhaps the most egregious of all apostrophic errors.
Now the apostrophe is truly under assault, notably among municipalities that won’t paint it on signs or use it in addresses. So it was in Birmingham, England, in 2009, and, as The Guardian recently reported, other cities have followed with plans to strike the mark.
Purists want the apostrophe to persist, and they argue for its accurate use through a handful of organized groups such as the Apostrophe Protection Society and the Plain English Campaign. As in all language issues, emphasis should be on clarity of expression and effective communication. To put it in perspective, how would Spanish speakers feel if the tilde were taken away?