At the age of 96, the keeper of faith in the apostrophe has admitted defeat to public apathy. John Richards of the UK, who founded the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001, has bowed to the superior force of “ignorance and laziness”. Never mind they got off to a good start, winning the Ig Nobel for “efforts to protect, promote and defend the differences between plural and possessive”. And they’ve shown more stamina than the movement to put the ‘e’ back in ‘judgment’. More’s the pity. Mores the pity? Why not, it looks neater.
Fooling with the apostrophe, which has governed possessives like ‘Waterstone’s’ and contractions and elisions like ‘mustn’t’ since 1496, is sometimes deliberate. The bookseller Waterstone’s became Waterstones because according to the grammar of design (yes, such a thing exists, and it is quite implacable in action), shop signs and logos look nicer without that fiddly little character rearing up off the baseline. Harrods and Selfridges, too, have dropped it. And generally speaking, the English are deplorably prone to misplace their apostrophes in place names involving saints — St Johns, St Annes and so on.
Besides, the march of technology leaves ignorance and laziness eating dust. Consider the dreadful pidgin incubated by Twitter’s restrictions on the length of a message. F u cn gt away wid dis, you would ruthlessly shoulder apostrophes aside. A few years ago, there was widespread outrage when Tim Berners-Lee, father of the World Wide Web, admitted that the second forward slash in http:// was redundant. Millions complained about needless damage to their carpal tunnels. Now that Richards’ society has closed down, millions more may gaze irritably at the apostrophe key. Wouldnt you?