29 June 2009

Another battle lost?

"Its time. Sorry, it's time to save the apostrophe" argues Tracy Spicer in The Punch

It’s tiny but powerful.

Its incorrect insertion could mean the difference between life and death.

And it’s fighting for its very existence.

I’m referring to the apostrophe; specifically, the possessive apostrophe.

Even its proper name – saxon genitive – sounds more like a sexually transmitted disease than the pinnacle of punctuation.

Philistines and purists are waging war on the web, about whether this much-maligned mark should be banned.

Two photos accompany her piece: one captioned "Rabbit's die on a table", the other "Rabbits die on a table". (The first actually shows a pair of dice). .

I'm sympathetic to her general thrust though I think the battle for the possessive " 's" in certain situations, notably place names and the internet, has been lost, often with, as in the example from the UK she cites, official approval.

Here in South Australia
the government has directed "In all cases the apostrophe is to be deleted" from place names.The Geographical Names Act 1991 s3 states

"place" means any area, region, locality, city, suburb, town, township, or settlement, or any geographical or topographical feature, and includes any railway station, hospital, school and any other place or building that is, or is likely to be, of public or historical interest;.

This has led to the absurd situation where the official geographical name of a prominent Adelaide school differs from what the school, retaining the apostrophe, calls itself on its website (though even here there's some hedging of bets as the apostropheless "Saints" is occasionally used).

Is, I wonder, the college commiting an offence by not using the "official" name? s13 of the Geographical Names Act 1991 suggests that it could, in certain circumstances, be. Might we expect to see the place names police investigating the matter soon?

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