Has Ignorance and Laziness Won?

Posted on: December 10th, 2019 by Pat Mesiti No Comments

Oh my gosh! Have you heard the news? The Apostrophe Protection Society is closing down, because (according to the founder) “the ignorance and laziness present in modern times has won”.

John Richards, a former journalist and subeditor, dedicated his life to stamping out the misuse of apostrophes. He founded the Apostrophe Protection Society in England in 2001 to combat what he described as the “amazing” misuse of the apostrophe.

Now aged 96, he says he can no longer keep fighting what he terms “crimes against punctuation”. He calls the beloved apostrophe – used correctly like this my mother’s shoes – a “threatened species”.

“With regret, I have to announce that, after some 18 years, I have decided to close the Apostrophe Protection Society,” he announced on his website. “There are two reasons for this. One is that at 96 I am cutting back on my commitments and the second is that fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English language.

“We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!”

In life, has ignorance and laziness won?

I don’t know what to say. Do you think ignorance and laziness has won in modern times? I’m not just talking about language but about life. Are people more inclined to do what is easy rather than what is right?

The counterculture, which began in the 1960s but really has its roots in the 1950s beatnik, emphasised personal fulfilment above duty. In 1961 President Kennedy at his inauguration said “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. But in the late 1960s with the Vietnam war raging young people tired of this sentiment, tired of being sent to war started looking for personal happiness.

Have we gone too far on our quest for happiness?

Has the pendulum swung too far? Are people too focussed on themselves, and have no feeling of duty to the community? I guess it varies from person to person. I have always advocated looking after yourself AND serving others. To me the two go hand in hand. Maybe people are lazy and ignorant when it comes to punctuation, but in life many people are responsible, dutiful and noble. I have not lost faith in people.

After Mr Richards announced his was shutting down his society, hundreds if not thousands of punctuation enthusiasts reached out to him, and there is now a question mark hanging over the future of the Apostrophe Protection Society (sorry, bad joke). What I am trying to say is that other may continue the society.

Mr Richards started the organisation after retiring from newspaper. He said he was irritated by how often the apostrophe was used incorrectly.

On his website he notes: “It constantly amazed me how often reporters, especially the younger ones, seemed to have no idea of the correct use of this very useful little device.”

And he became even more irritated when he left the newspaper. “Everywhere he went he saw the same mistakes over and over again until he decided that he could no longer ignore it,” his website says. “The little apostrophe deserves our protection. It is indeed a threatened species!”

When he set up his society he expected only a dozen people to support him, instead more than 500 letters of support arrived

His website later branched out into other language “abuses”, including the confusion over the use of “less” and “fewer”, as well as the misuse of “who” and “whom”.

I think as a tribute to Mr Richards’ hard work the past 18 years I should now cover the correct use of apostrophes. I am using the online Book of Grammar as a source.

Rule 1a. Use the apostrophe to show possession. To show possession with a singular noun, add an apostrophe plus the letter s.

a woman’s hatthe boss’s wifeMrs. Chang’s house

Rule 1b. Many common nouns end in the letter s (lens, cactus, bus, etc.). So do a lot of proper nouns (Mr. Jones, Texas, Christmas). There are conflicting policies and theories about how to show possession when writing such nouns. There is no right answer; the best advice is to choose a formula and stay consistent.

Rule 1c. Some writers and editors add only an apostrophe to all nouns ending in s. And some add an apostrophe + s to every proper noun, be it Hastings’s or Jones’s.

One method, common in newspapers and magazines, is to add an apostrophe + s (‘s) to common nouns ending in s, but only a stand-alone apostrophe to proper nouns ending in s.

Rule 2a. Regular nouns are nouns that form their plurals by adding either the letter s or es (guy, guys; letter, letters; actress, actresses; etc.). To show plural possession, simply put an apostrophe after the s.

Correct: guys’ night out (guy + s + apostrophe)
Incorrect: guy’s night out (implies only one guy)

Correct: two actresses’ roles (actress + es + apostrophe)
Incorrect: two actress’s roles

Rule 2b. Do not use an apostrophe + s to make a regular noun plural.

Incorrect: Apostrophe’s are confusing.
Correct: Apostrophes are confusing.

Incorrect: We’ve had many happy Christmas’s.
Correct: We’ve had many happy Christmases.

In special cases, such as when forming a plural of a word that is not normally a noun, some writers add an apostrophe for clarity.

Example: Here are some do’s and don’ts.

In that sentence, the verb do is used as a plural noun, and the apostrophe was added because the writer felt that dos was confusing. Not all writers agree; some see no problem with dos and don’ts.

Has this lesson helped you or confused you? Good luck in your correct use of apostrophes!


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Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


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