- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
In a move that is sure to rile grammarians the world over, the Mid Devon District Council is planning a ban on apostrophes in street names to avoid "potential confusion," according to the BBC (the official pronouncement is largely symbolic, since only three streets in the district currently have apostrophes). Already, Britons like proofreader Mary de Vere Taylor of Ashburton are speaking out against the proposed prohibition:
"It’s almost as though somebody with a giant eraser is literally trying to erase punctuation from our consciousness," she told BBC News.
She said there was something "terribly British and terribly reassuring" about well-written and well-punctuated writing.
The North Devon Journal adds that the North Devon Council and Torridge District Council have implemented bans as well:
While Torridge has an official policy against the use of apostrophes North Devon’s assistant chief executive Anne Cowley said although it was not a council policy it is historic practice not to use apostrophes in street names.
"When the council names a new street the details are entered onto the Local Street Gazetteer," she said.
"This feeds into the National Street Gazetteer and there are no street names on the Local Street Gazetteer for North Devon containing an apostrophe followed by a letter S."
The debate about apostrophes in public signage is actually not new in Britain. In 2009, for instance, the Daily Mail profiled a "punctuation hero" who was accused of being a vandal after he pained a missing apostrophe on a sign near his home (the man also refused to get in the ‘five items or less’ line at the supermarket because the notice should read, ‘five items or fewer’).
That same year, the Birmingham City Council got in a feud with the U.K.’s Apostrophe Protection Society — yes, the Apostrophe Protection Society — after authorities refused to add apostrophes to the city’s road signs. "I have done my own research into the use of the possessive apostrophe in place names," one council member declared in defending the decision.
As for the latest punctuation dustup, the Mid Devon District Council’s statement declares that "our proposed policy on street naming and numbering covers a whole host of practical issues, many of which are aimed at reducing potential confusion over street names." Careful readers will notice that the statement does not include a single apostrophe.