In the lanes of Devon, the signs aren't looking good for the apostrophe

Council plans to ban ‘confusing’ punctuation mark from new street names

There’s something about this sentence that Mid Devon District Council doesn’t like. Two things in fact. Apostrophes.

The local authority has outraged guardians of the English language by proposing to ban the punctuation mark from new street names – as one of a number of measures aimed at “reducing potential confusion”.

Quite what is confusing about an apostrophe was not obvious to residents yesterday, although the council has suggested that, when searching internet databases and co-ordinating responses to emergencies, “it’s useful to have everyone spelling things in the same way”.

But punctuation pedants are far from convinced.

“What are they doing?!” demanded Steve Jenner, of the Plain English Campaign.

“Language is an agreed set of rules and if we stop agreeing that’s the case it’s going to cause real problems. It could actually be dangerous. It could cause situations where people are misunderstood. Where does this stop? Do we get rid of commas and full stops because they’re inconvenient?”

John Richards, chairman of the Apostrophe Protection Society, pointed out that regardless of the practical application of the apostrophe, Mid Devon Council had a responsibility to uphold grammatical standards.

“There are plenty of schools in Mid Devon where teachers are trying to teach people the English language,” he said. “Those pupils are now quite within their rights to say ‘Who bothers about apostrophes? The council doesn’t.’”

Opinions among residents of Bakers View in Newton Abbot – apparently a street that has fallen victim to the council’s deep-rooted anti-apostrophe tendencies – ranged from outrage to stoic acquiescence.

“I never thought about it and it doesn’t worry me at all,” one of them told the BBC. But Mr Jenner, a local, disagrees. “Bakers View should be Baker’s,” he said. “In 100 years’ time when historians come to investigate why it’s called Bakers View they’ll be looking for somewhere where 30 guys were making bread.”

Explaining the rationale behind the plans, a council spokesman said: “Our proposed policy on street naming and numbering covers a whole host of practical issues, many of which are aimed at reducing potential confusion over street names.”

Among the “host of practical issues” are other measures aimed at regulating the naming of new streets including one that stipulates that “street names that may be open to re-interpretation by graffiti or shortening of the name shall be avoided.”

So no Cockburn Roads or anything like that.

The council insists, however, that no road signs will be changed and the three street names in the area which do have apostrophes – Beck’s Square and Blundell’s Avenue in Tiverton and St George’s Well in Cullompton – will keep their punctuation marks.

The council added that shunning apostrophes had been de facto policy for years and was only now being made official – with the matter going before cabinet on 28 March. Councils in Birmingham and Wakefield have previously proposed similar bans.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Ideal candidates for the role m...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Communications Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 6-month part-time contract (24 hours a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Broker

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Vehicle Broker is req...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific