Apostrophe’s catastrophe

Joseph Winters 26 January 2014

Apostrophes will no longer be used on new Cambridge street signs, leading to accusations of “pandering to the lowest denominator”.

Cambridge City Council said the decision was made in accordance with national guidelines, claiming that apostrophes could lead to mistakes, particularly for emergency services.

Yet Kathy Salaman, of the Cambridge-based Good Grammar Company, said: “I know some people think apostrophes are superfluous but we really need them and I think it’s the first step on a slippery slope.

“If councils are getting rid of them, what kind of message does that give to students at school? Dropping apostrophes is pandering to the lowest denominator and while eradicating them anywhere is dreadful, it is particularly bad to do it in Cambridge.”

However, Nick Milne, the city council officer responsible for street naming, suggested that “many data users including the emergency services make no reference at all as to whether an apostrophe is used or not.”

A second year linguist at Cambridge told The Cambridge Student: “I would disagree that forgoing apostrophes has any effect on people’s grasp of English grammar. They’re just orthographic conventions. Although missing them out might cause some ambiguities in the spelling, most people can figure out in context what a word means (e.g. the its/it’s distinction).”

Also banned are street names which could be “difficult to pronounce or awkward to spell” as well as those which “could give offence” or would “encourage defacing of nameplates”.

Existing street names will not be affected.