Simon Kelner: Pedants' Revolt seems to be gathering momentum


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The Independent Online

It looks like I may have been on to something, On Monday, I exhorted i readers to rise up and join my campaign against the debasement of grammatical standards, which I coined the pedants' revolt. Never have I had such a response to a column and through the modern channels of communication – Twitter and Facebook – you responded in such numbers to make me believe that this is something you truly care about.

I can't quite imagine us walking down Whitehall with banners proclaiming: "It's Invitation not Invite!" and shouting: "What do we want? An end to split infinitives!", but it appears feelings run high among the i nation.

One of those who tweeted in support went under the moniker "Grammar Nazi" – there's a man after my own heart, I thought – and he led me to a whole community where the misuse of the apostrophe is a venal sin.

The most egregious example in this world is the book retailer Waterstones, which recently ejected the apostrophe from its name. How can a store that deals in literature preside over such a wilful corruption of the language? It's gone out of its way to make its name ungrammatical.

The punctuation police have even gone to the trouble of leaving a giant apostrophe outside a branch of Waterstone's (sorry, I just can't do it) in the manner of a homeless person. It is accompanied by a note: "Will denote possession or help with contractions for food."

Many of the people who are exercised by the drop in standards point to the pervasive influence of text messaging, and the necessity on Twitter to squeeze everything into 140 characters, often leaving punctuation the victim.

Someone who signs herself Literary Kitty, but is clearly the Miss Marple of the grammatical world, said: "I think Twitter's part of the conspiracy to destroy the apostrophe. Evidence? You can't use apostrophes in hashtags."

Indeed, the humble apostrophe is so abused and neglected that I am almost immune to upset these days when I see shops advertising video's or potatoe's.

However, it's not just the greengrocer who has trouble with spelling and punctuation. Early in my journalistic career, I sat next to someone who, writing a caption on a black-and-white picture, identified someone as "in the front row, wearing a pail gray suite". (Mind you, he was the man who, beneath a picture of the prize steer being presented at the local fatstock show, identified those in the picture as: "left to right, The Mayor, The Lady Mayoress, the beast ...")

I am just as interested in modern corruptions of language. For instance, when did people, particularly in the service industries, start using the word "yourself" instead of "you", as in "anything else for yourself?" rather than "would you like anything else?" And then there's the officialese that is designed to obfuscate. For instance, at my tube station, the escalator has been out of action for what seems like months and every day there is the same announcement about "the restricted escalator service", giving the impression that the escalator goes only halfway down and stops. That reminds me: hands up anyone who gets annoyed by the incorrect positioning of the word "only" in a sentence. I could go on ad nauseam. Or is it ad infinitum?