I don’t know if this is a problem everywhere or just in Australia, so do let me know. It’s become a major annoyance (okay, probably only to people like me–grumpy old women) how much the apostrophe is misused. It’s quite clear that there are many people out there who don’t actually know what it’s for! They just seem to throw it in anywhere. It’s randomly stuck in before any old ‘s’ in signs out the front of fruit shops: tomatoe’s, banana’s etc. Even professional sign writers sometimes abuse the poor little apostrophe like that at times.
I often use the text option while watching TV because my hearing’s not great and I don’t expect good grammar or spelling with that but when someone has paid for an ad which includes huge letters across the screen you would think someone would make sure the spelling and grammar are okay first, wouldn’t you? Perhaps they use a good old computer spellcheck–we all know how effective that is, don’t we?
Don’t get me wrong–I love spellcheck–I’m shocking at typos; my fingers seem to work independently of my brain, but it’s the first stage of editing, not the last and certainly not the one and only. Words such as who’s and whose and its’, it’s and its are not always picked up by computers.
So is it time to give up? Has our education system totally failed our kids who now think ‘should’ve’ is ‘should of’ and have no idea of the purpose of an apostrophe? Should we just stop using it altogether? Or should we somehow get the message out there that the apostrophe does have a purpose? An apostrophe takes the place of one or more missing letters. Who’s means who is and it’s means it is. There is no apostrophe in the possessive form of ‘its’, any more than in ‘his’ or ‘hers’.
One of the more memorable things I learnt in my literary classes at university was that the apostrophe does, indeed, always indicate missing letters, even in the case of the possessive. The professor told us that many years ago people would say: The dog his bone, or Adam his apple and that this evolved into The dog’s bone, Adam’s apple etc.
We could take to the streets with placards–should they say ‘Rid the world of the apostrophe!’ or should they say ‘Stop abusing the apostrophe?’ My frustrations went into a little ebook, which is free for everyone at Smashwords, What Did You Say? It could be subtitled ‘Words of Wisdom from a Grumpy Old Woman’.