Blog Excerpts

"Punctuation Hero" or Vandal?

In the United Kingdom, the apostrophe is rapidly disappearing from street signs. But one man has decided to take matters into his own hands.

Stefan Gatward, a 62-year-old former soldier, was annoyed by a street sign near his home in Tunbridge Wells reading "St Johns Close" instead of "St John's Close." So he "decided to launch a one-man crusade against 'dumbed down' Britain, and picked up a paintbrush to insert a missing apostrophe." The Daily Mail lauded him as a "punctuation hero," while the Telegraph dubbed him an "apostrophist." One of his neighbors, however, has a different term for him: "vandal." From the Daily Mail:

He was immediately accused of being a vandal by one neighbour, and his amendments have been scratched off by others who apparently prefer the wrong version.

The 62-year-old's defence of the apostrophe comes after Birmingham council announced it would scrap the punctuation from council signs for the sake of 'simplicity'.

'He told me I was wrong. He called me a vandal and a graffiti artist,' Mr Gatward said.

'He tried to tell me that the Post Office would not deliver to the street if you put in an apostrophe.' ...

'I feel very strongly about the English language. These days people write in text-speak and nobody knows how to use the apostrophe.'

He added: 'I'm not going to go round with a can of paint and change everything - it would be a full-time job.'

Judging by the 300+ comments on the Daily Mail article, British readers are overwhelmingly on Mr. Gatward's side. (They are not so concerned, however, about the missing period in the abbreviation "St" — a British punctuation style not typically followed in American usage.) Somewhere, Lynne Truss is beaming.

For more on the disappearance of apostrophes from British street signs, see Arnold Zwicky's Language Log post, "Apostrophe catastrophe." And in two other Language Log posts — "Angry linguistic mobs with torches" and "'Grammar vigilantes' brought to justice," Mark Liberman reports on an American counterpart to the "St Johns Close" story: the "Typo Eradication Advancement League" (TEAL). Two members of TEAL were arrested last year for vandalism after "correcting" the punctuation on a historic marker at the Grand Canyon.

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