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The Independent Culture

Middle-class problems: Apostrophes

By Simmy Richman

Let's make this clear from the start: grammar and punctuation are important. As one joker recently put it, "[They] can be the difference between knowing your shit, and knowing you're shit." Yup. Grammar and punctuation can change the narrative when a panda with a poorly edited wildlife manual walks into a café and orders a sandwich. They really can. Truss me on this.

But there is another side to this debate, and it is one that really reveals itself only after half a lifetime spent working with words. In a nutshell, it is this: many educated middle-class people seem to have taken it upon themselves to use a person's lack of understanding of how apostrophes work as a tool with which to patronise those who may be foreign, dyslexic, under-educated or simply uninterested.

We have even given a name to this phenomenon: the greengrocer's apostrophe. "Darling, I simply couldn't buy my fruit from that establishment. I mean, the sign on the produce outside read 'APPLE'S and ORANGE'S', for goodness sake!"

Well woop di doo and la di da. Bully for you. You understand how the apostrophe works, and that poor sod who barely made it out of the war-torn place of his birth and then had to adjust to a foreign language and culture doesn't. Give yourself a hearty pat on the back. Well done, you.

So yes, attention to linguistic detail is important. But punctuation pedants take note: whether the sign reads "APPLE'S" or "APPLES" really isn't worth worrying about. The core meaning is surely the same.