The Missing Apostrophe by Angela Caldin
Grammatical Error in Genteel Tearooms
While I was up in Harrogate recently, I had the pleasure of visiting the famous tearooms in the town centre. As I was drinking in the atmosphere, I noticed on the menu that the name of this delightful venue was spelt BETTYS. I did a double take and realised what was troubling me: there was no apostrophe. I drank my coffee and enjoyed my croissant nonetheless, but when I got home I looked on their website and found this under the section marked FAQs:
Q. Why has your company adopted the spellings “Bettys and Taylors” instead of the correct “Betty’s and Taylor’s”?
A. Bettys lost its apostrophe around fifty years ago, so the exact explanation is lost in time. It’s generally believed that the name was thought to look better without one – more distinctive, less messy – and as a brand name was not subject to the same rules as everyday words. Many trademarks and brand names eschew the rules for similar such reasons, even more so now thanks to the rise of the internet. Taylors has never had an apostrophe as the ‘s’ is a plural to reflect the fact that various family members were involved in the company.
To be grammatically correct, where a business name is based on a proper name or a family name, it should take an apostrophe, but in recent times there has been an increasing tendency to drop the apostrophe as in Harrods, Currys, Selfridges and Barclays. A small activist group called the Apostrophe Protection Society has campaigned for such large retailers to reinstate their missing punctuation, but with no success. A spokesperson for Barclays PLC stated, ‘The apostrophe has just disappeared over the years. Barclays is no longer associated with the family name.’
Grammatical Error on Road Signs and in Supermarket
There is a tendency to drop apostrophes in many commonly used names such as St Annes, St Johns Lane and so on. In 2009, a resident in Royal Tunbridge Wells was accused of vandalism after he painted apostrophes on road signs that had spelt St John’s Close as St Johns Close. Birmingham City Council recently said it would not be including apostrophes on its road signs for areas such as Kings Norton, Druids Heath and St Pauls Square. The UK supermarket chain Tesco omits the mark where standard practice would require it. Signs in Tesco advertise ‘mens magazines’, ‘girls toys’, ‘kids books’ and ‘womens shoes’. This has led author Bill Bryson to lambast Tesco, stating that, ‘The mistake is inexcusable, and those who make it are linguistic Neanderthals.’
All this made me think. Clearly there’s a feeling that apostrophes are a nuisance, that people struggle with the rules and we should therefore stop bothering with them at all. But this movement is counteracted by the absolute rash of what have become known as greengrocers’ apostrophes where people keep putting them in when there shouldn’t be any, as in apple’s, orange’s, courgette’s, lemon’s, mango’s etc. A restaurant menu might boast the following: pizza’s, pasta’s, appetizer’s, soup & salad’s, and lunch special’s, all with sauteed onion’s. Signs in shop windows might say: ‘Tool’s reduced’; ‘Sales assistant’s wanted’; and on public noticeboards, especially in personal advertisements: ‘Lawn’s mowed at competitive rate’s’.
I feel I have hit on something fundamental here: we clearly want to leave apostrophes out when we should put them in and we want to put them in when we should leave them out. Where does that get us? Not very far, I fear. But how is anyone to learn about the correct use of apostrophes when there is so much confusion about them out in the world? I once tried to teach Emily the rules and even wrote a piece on it all for her information. She wrote back to me saying: ‘Thanks so much for your helpful piece on apostrophe’s.’
I rest my case. Even though I’m not sure what my case is exactly.