Punctuation is all the rage
Feb 2 2009 By Sarah Evans
It’s not difficult to teach the use of the apostrophe.
As grammar rules go, it’s relatively simple. In punctuation terms, it is easier than full stops and commas that rely largely on an instinctive feel now that few are taught the clause analysis necessary to explain the rules of the sentence.
It is quite extraordinary that it takes the council’s debate on dropping the apostrophe from city place names to put Birmingham in the national news. I have never seen or heard Birmingham mentioned so many times, never mind King’s Heath and St Paul’s Square. The nation couldn’t care less about job losses, city regeneration, transport systems, education or health in its second largest city, but when it comes to a punctuation mark we are suddenly in the full beam of national interest.
It makes you wonder what else we could do and how we could best exploit the media’s fickle and short attention span. There were lost opportunities last week.
While gallantly defending the decision on the grounds of expense, conflict resolution and the special status of place names, against the ‘dumbing down’ accusations, councillors could have slipped in a few relevant educational facts about the city. The number of universities and the excellence of so many of their departments, innovative state schools, nationally renown independent schools including one of the few ballet schools the country possesses, could all have been casually dropped into interviews to show that far from giving up on standards, Birmingham is a jewel in the country’s educational crown. In a week when we also heard a quarter of the nation was illiterate, we could have done with some of the good news stories about the work being done in the city to help adults whose English is poor.
But it was all a bit sudden and it’s easy to be wise with hindsight. Now that, finally, we know how to capture the country’s interest, all those bright groups that look at marketing Birmingham should be able to exploit this new knowledge.
What about getting rid of capital letters – so old fashioned and a bit of a bother, no one uses them in text speak – and having ready a long list of technological innovations in the West Midlands when the media juggernaut hits again?
Personally I don’t mind too much about place names. I accept they have a life of their own; that, despite the fact I am driven quite insane by other misuses of apostrophe. There is a sign outside a Moseley pub saying ‘Coffee’s and Croissant’s from 10.30.’
It makes me want to demand the entire clientele leaves the premises until the calligrapher understands the simple concept of the plural.
The national fuss is because some fear we are losing our sensitivity to language. We are a more visually based culture – a bit like cave-men – so the subtlety of words to convey and expand the possibilities of the human condition is being deemed a waste of time and the wisdom of millennia is being lost in a decade or two.