Do we still need the Apostrophe on Signs?

The humble apostrophe is under attack. Apparently, they upset computer databases. But do they also upset sign-makers? 

North Yorkshire Council shook a hornet’s nest of outraged locals by banning apostrophes on its street name signs. They say the problematic punctuation point can affect geographical databases and that the move is part of a national plan.

One resident took to a newly installed St Marys Walk road sign and reinserted the apostrophe with a black permanent marker. They did a pretty good job too!

I suspect most sign-makers and printers have a tale of typo woe involving an apostrophe. 

ISA UK CEO, Craig Brown, is firmly in favour of keeping the apostrophe on our signs

I spoke to Craig Brown, CEO of ISA UK and a signwriter by trade. “I have every sympathy for typos and misplaced apostrophes in emails, etc. I was diagnosed with dyslexia in my adult years, and I often find I read things differently and will see words that aren’t there. But when it comes to signage and text that will be fixed in place, the simple answer is to get it checked.”

He adds, “If you don’t spot it as you write it, you’ll probably miss it again when checking. Having a second set of eyes reviewing your work before it is committed to print is the very basic level of checking.”

Craig also warns, “Who’s checked the checker though? Make sure the person doing the checking is suited to that role, has a proper understanding of grammar, and takes the time to proofread thoroughly.”

Susie Dent’s View

But is it worth it? Does the apostrophe add enough to the message in a sign to make a necessity?

Countdown’s Susie Dent says the omission of the apostrophe from street signs doesn’t mean our language is heading into ruin

Would removing the apostrophe from all signs save time and money from rectifying mistakes?

Or would it result in misinformation, confusion and spell the beginning of the end of the English language?

We asked Countdown’s Susie Dent for an etymologist’s opinion. “I feel really torn on the subject of apostrophes on signs. There is elegance in the apostrophe, as well as clarity, and it does feel as though there’s something lacking on those street signs. At the same time, this particular point of punctuation has been in flux over the course of its history, and I don’t think its omission from street signs signals the end of our standards, or means that our language is falling into ruin.”

She adds, “Punctuation is just as subject to evolution as vocabulary and pronunciation. If you look at the history of the apostrophe itself, there has always been debate over its proper use, and some of our greatest writers had very different thoughts about it. In Shakespeare’s First Folio, for example, the apostrophe is used to indicate possession in only 4% of the instances in which we might use one today.”

However, Craig is a bit more certain. “The apostrophe is there for a reason, so it should stay! Do we really need to dumb everything down to a basic level?”

What do you think?

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