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7 Dec 2019 7:23
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  •   Home > News > International

    Apostrophe Protection Society closes its doors, announcing that 'the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!'

    John Richards has dedicated his life to stamping out the misuse of apostrophes. But at the age of 96, he's now calling it a day, admitting that it's all become a bit too much.

    John Richards has dedicated his life to stamping out the misuse of apostrophes.

    But at the age of 96 he's calling it a day, admitting it's all become a bit too much.

    Mr Richards is closing down the Apostrophe Protection Society, which he founded in 2001 when he retired from a decades-long career as a newspaper reporter and subeditor.

    "With regret, I have to announce that, after some 18 years, I have decided to close the Apostrophe Protection Society," he said on his website.

    "There are two reasons for this.

    "One is that at 96 I am cutting back on my commitments and the second is that fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English language.

    "We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!"

    Hundreds of punctuation enthusiasts share founder's sentiments

    Mr Richards was driven to start the society upon his retirement as a newspaper subeditor in the UK.

    He said he became "irritated" during his work to witness how often the apostrophe was used incorrectly.

    A bio on his website notes: "It constantly amazed him how often reporters, especially the younger ones, seemed to have no idea of the correct use of this very useful little device."

    But his problems didn't end when he retired.

    In everyday life, he found apostrophe abuse was, if anything, more prevalent than in the newspaper office.

    "Everywhere he went he saw the same mistakes over and over again until he decided that he could no longer ignore it," the bio continues.

    "The little apostrophe deserves our protection.

    "It is indeed a threatened species!"

    Instead of the "half a dozen" letters of support he expected for his endeavours, he said he had had over 500 people contact him expressing support for his mission.

    His website later branched out into other language "abuses", including the confusion over the use of "less" and "fewer", as well as the misuse of "who" and "whom".

    Language researcher argues apostrophes have always caused confusion

    ABC Language researcher Tiger Webb, who has previously advocated for the apostrophe's removal within the English language, said it was untrue there had been an increasing misuse of apostrophes.

    "There was no golden age when people used apostrophes correctly," he said.

    "This story is framed as … 'this is the victory of ignorance over some conservative ideal or principle or knowledge of grammar'. That's farcical.

    "Not only is language changing all the time … but punctuation is especially vulnerable to individual shifts in stylistic approach.

    "If you look at [writing and style guide] Fowler's Modern Usage, there's been three different volumes of that in the 1920s, 1950s, and 1990s.

    "Each one recommends using apostrophes in a slightly different way."

    Mr Webb said people who occasionally misused apostrophes did not need to feel guilty.

    "This [debate] is so often framed as, 'people are idiots, people are stupid if they don't know how to use an apostrophe, we have a clear and logical system for this'.

    "But the fact is, we don't, and we never have.

    "You don't have to maintain that if a greengrocer makes a mistake in a sign, they're an idiot."

    Mr Webb said he nevertheless wished Mr Richards all the best in his retirement.

    "I'm happy for [him], it's a pretty good age to turn your sight away from such querulousness," he said.

    "Change is already afoot, and I wish [him] all the best, but he was always ever fighting a rearguard action."

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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