Grammar wars erupt in apostrophe scandal

Controversy over removing apostrophes from signs - Newsreel
Can our civilisation survive poor grammar and spelling in signs? | Photo: iStock

The coffee mug says: Let’s eat, grandma. Let’s eat grandma. Grammar saves lives.

It may be rare for grammar to actually save lives but one community in the United Kingdom is discovering what happens when you mess with it.

The North Yorkshire council has announced that in future none of its street signs will have apostrophes. St Mary’s Walk in Harrogate is already sans grammar.

Grammar aficionados are outraged. Residents have formed groups to “save the apostrophe”. Teachers are worried that student grammar skills will suffer.

In St Mary’s Walk a zealot with a Niko pen put the apostrophe back. That unknown person is now a local hero of Banksy proportions.

For the North Yorkshire council, the decision is a practical one.  It says all punctuation would be considered “but avoided where possible” because of the data storage requirements set out in a thing called BS7666.

No, the BS doesn’t stand for what you are thinking. It is the British standard for geographical place names.

“This restricts the use of punctuation marks and special characters (eg apostrophes, hyphens and ampersands) to avoid potential problems when searching the databases as these characters have specific meanings in computer systems,” a council spokesperson told the BBC.

The move has attracted national attention with some seeing the demise of apostrophe as an early sign (excuse the pun) of the decline of civilisation itself.

North Yorkshire is not the first council to open the can of worms. Cambridge city council put it out there. And then retreated quickly. Mid Devon floated it as an idea about 11 years ago, and got a bit flummoxed by all the attention.

At least we still have our spelling – except for music groups. The Beatles, The Monkees, The Byrds, Def Leppard, Split Enz and INXS, among others, didn’t stump up for a dictionary.

And we wunder why nobloody carn spell.

Shane Rodgers