January 31, 2009 in Nation/World

British city puts period on use of apostrophe

By MEERA SELVA Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

A street sign naming St. Paul’s Square without an apostrophe is seen in Birmingham, England, on Jan. 29. Birmingham has decided to stop using apostrophes in its street signs.
(Full-size photo)

LONDON – On the streets of Birmingham, the queen’s English is now the queens English.

England’s second-largest city has decided to drop apostrophes from all its street signs, saying they’re confusing and old-fashioned.

But some purists are downright possessive about the punctuation mark.

It seems that Birmingham officials have been taking a hammer to grammar for years, quietly dropping apostrophes from street signs since the 1950s. Through the decades, residents have frequently launched spirited campaigns to restore the missing punctuation to signs denoting such places as “St. Pauls Square” or “Acocks Green.”

This week, the council made it official, saying it was banning the punctuation mark from signs in a bid to end the dispute once and for all.

Councilor Martin Mullaney, who heads the city’s transport scrutiny committee, said he decided to act after yet another interminable debate into whether “Kings Heath,” a Birmingham suburb, should be rewritten with an apostrophe.

“I had to make a final decision on this,” he said Friday. “We keep debating apostrophes in meetings and we have other things to do.”

But grammarians say apostrophes enrich the English language.

“They are such sweet-looking things that play a crucial role in the English language,” said Marie Clair of the Plain English Society, which campaigns for the use of simple English. “It’s always worth taking the effort to understand them, instead of ignoring them.”

There is no national body responsible for regulating place names in Britain. Its main mapping agency, Ordnance Survey, which provides data for emergency services, takes its information from local governments and each one is free to decide how it uses punctuation.

“If councils decide to add or drop an apostrophe to a place name, we just update our data,” said Ordnance Survey spokesman Paul Beauchamp. “We’ve never heard of any confusion arising from their existence.”

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