semicolon

Nothing gets grammar nazis tearing their hair out and grinding their teeth faster, more often or more intensely than a misplaced apostrophe. It’s the punctuational equivalent of dragging one’s fingers down a blackboard, or reading anything by e. e. cummings.

There are even websites devoted to it, such as ApostropheCatastrophes, which is counterbalanced by the anarchic, if slightly satirical, KillTheApostrophe.

And I confess, for years – decades even – I was one of the fiercest defenders of the apostrophe. In particular, my outrage at seeing a plural arbitrarily and erroneously transformed into a possessive was instant and extreme.My blood boiled and my heckles prickled. Possessives without apostrophes or elided words with them misplaced just made me sad.

But these days I’m inclined to be a little more relaxed about it. Because somewhere along the line, I read a piece that explained that the original purpose of the apostrophe was indeed to denote a plural where the simple addition of an s might just have altered the pronunciation, or even just looked funny. Think potatos and tomatos, or whys and hows. In some ways, it makes sense to drop in an easy apostrophe, rather than invent a whole new spelling convention, or get used to the grating sound the pluralised word makes in your mind.

And when you learn that the possessive function of the apostrophe didn’t come along until much later, it’s hard to be too bloody-minded about its current use.

I still feel physically ill when I see some crimes against the apostrophe, but I try to chill out about it. After all, the language change’s all the time, doesnt it?