Thursday, 10 June 2010

The lazy apostrophe

How I deprecate the sudden upsurge of the 'lazy' apostrophe, and the needless confusion it causes. I am not talking about incorrect apostrophes (for example the 'Greengrocer's' apostrophe — "Cauli's 50p/lb"). I am talking about the more-or-less random omission of letters in written English as though attempting a phonetic transcription of lazy speech. Is this just a passing fad amongst journalists? I would hate to think that there is a new editorial policy sweeping our country.

Examples can be found in almost any newspaper these days; for example Susannah Clapp in 'The Observer' (2010.05.30) provides the following:
"It's notorious for a production in 1613 during which the Globe theatre burnt down.."
"Still, there's another strand to the play…
"There is plenty that's incendiary." (Why not "There's plenty that's incendiary."?
"Men died as a consequence and Keller's business partner has been jailed…"  Oh no! Sorry! The last is a genuine 'possessive' apostrophe.

One objection to the 'lazy' apostrophe is that it looks like a legitimate possessive. A second is that it robs the sentence of its verb. (Shortening "cannot" to "can't" is a different matter; it saves space, it does not remove the verb, and it does not resemble a possessive.) Above all, why this 'lazy' apostrophe is not (in my view) legitimate is that in written English we are not (in general) writing the sounds we intend to convey but the ideas we intend to convey. We do not write "innernashnal" or "aluminum", but "international" and "aluminium". The words are pronounced in different ways round the world.

I put these points a few weeks ago to the Editor of The London Review of Books, but got no reply; but then, there is no reply, is there!

Occidentis, MORPETH, UK.

No comments: