Birmingham City Council bans apostrophes from road signs
They’ve been a source of utter confusion to school-children over the years. And it’s a brave adult who can be absolutely certain where to put the little beast.
So to make things simpler, Birmingham City Council has decided road signs and place names should not have apostrophes.
After years spent arguing the finer points of whether Kings Heath should be King’s Heath, or even Kings’ Heath, and if it would be better to call Acock’s Green Acocks Green, local authority leaders have concluded the safest thing is not to bother at all.
All remaining apostrophes will disappear as signs are replaced, and English language pedants hoping for a return to the days of Druid’s Heath and King’s Norton are being warned to expect to be disappointed.
The ruling was agreed by cabinet transportation member Len Gregory following a review of the use, or non-use, of the apostrophe in Kings Heath.
Asked whether there might not be a place for apostrophes, Coun Gregory (Con Billesley) said: “I don’t see the point of them.
“If it was to give more clarity to the people of Birmingham it might be something we would look at, but I see no benefits at all.”
The decision was described as “absolute defeatism” by John Richards, founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society.
Mr Richards, whose website on the correct use of the apostrophe has had over one million hits, said: “This is setting a terrible example. All over Birmingham, and in other cities, teachers are trying to teach children correct grammar and punctuation.
“Now children will go around Birmingham and see utter chaos.
“If you don’t have apostrophes, is there any point in full stops, or semi-colons, or question marks? Is there any point in punctuation at all?”
Moseley and Kings Heath Liberal Democrat councillor Martin Mullaney, who devised the new policy, believes Birmingham should follow the example of America, which dropped the possessive apostrophe in place names in 1890.
Coun Mullaney, who chairs the transportation scrutiny committee, said: “I know I am opening up a right can of worms here. I have had a lot of people saying keep the apostrophe, and I know I am on a hiding to nothing. The apostrophe police will be on to me.
“But we have to make a decision. Either we reintroduce the apostrophe across the whole city, or we don’t.”
Birmingham has been inventing its own rules of grammar since the 1950s, with apostrophes being routinely removed when cast iron street signs are given a new coat of paint.
The result is that most street and place names no longer have an apostrophe.
Council websites do not include apostrophes in place names, although most A-Z maps and the Ordnance Survey do.
One of the main arguments behind the new strategy involves the importance to emergency services of using the internet to find directions to incidents.
“It would be tragic if the ambulance couldn’t find your street if you forgot to include the apostrophe when calling 999,” Coun Mullaney added.
He said he hoped other cities would follow Birmingham’s lead, adding: “It would be good to have a national policy on this.”