Tom Hodgkinson: Can we wipe out the aberrant apostrophe?

 

Share
Related Topics

Thank you to all of those who wrote in following my previous column on the teaching of grammar. Many of you agree that schools should instruct pupils in the proper use of English. And you have mentioned many bugbears. Perhaps I could list a few.

Mr O'Driscoll is particularly irritated by the construction, "I was stood next to her," which, he points out, should be, "I was standing next to her." Miss Pelling spotted an example of this on the radio, when a Lib Dem activist was describing being groped by Lord Rennard and said: "I was sat by Lord Rennard," and also "when I came out of the toilet [Rennard] was stood...".

Also bemoaned by Mr O'Driscoll is the use of "with" after "meeting" as in, "I am meeting with her." We ought to say, "I am meeting her." A teacher going by the pen name of The Northumberland Nit-picker wrote to complain about the unnecessary use of the word "so" on the radio. Time and again, she says, learned guests will put a "so" at the beginning of a reply to a question. She illustrates her point with the example: "Can you tell us about the importance of the leech in medieval medicine, Dr Omnium?" "So, the leech's bloodsucking properties..."

The Northumberland Nit-picker has spent years teaching grammar to little ones, but says that today the teachers themselves are badly taught: she says she is "appalled that many of the younger members of the teaching profession are as grammatically challenged as their pupils".

Many readers have sent in examples of what Keith Waterhouse used to call the "aberrant apostrophe". Thank you to Mr Beat for emailing his particular favourite, a sign seen above a Spanish restaurant: "Tapa's Bar". Is that a bar owned by Signor Tapa, we wonder? Readers also spotted that people often confuse "too" and "to", and "off" and "of". Mr Williams writes in with an example that committed both errors. He saw a sign on the back of a car that read: "If you can read this you are to close. Now back of!"

It seems aggression and poor grammar are often bedfellows. Miss McCaughan spotted an example in Margate, where an anonymous authoritarian had scrawled the following inscription on a concrete post: "DO NOT LET DOG SHIT hear," with an arrow pointing to the offending spot.

Mr Blumenau, a teacher at the Idler Academy, provided a handy list of common errors. Here are three: "Different to" instead of "different from"; "the reason was because" instead of "the reason was that" and "the law needs changing" instead of "the law needs to be changed".

A teacher of 32 years' standing took umbrage at my criticism of the teaching profession. He sarcastically noted that my phrase "teach this stuff" was "memorably elegant", and added: "Why on earth you are given the first page of a leading Sunday journal to express your views, whereas those of us who actually work in schools and colleges are expected to absorb sustained insult in stoic silence is beyond me." I have written before in admiration of the Stoics, and the NUT could hardly be accused of suffering in silence if its recent wailings are anything to go by. But that is another point. At least on this occasion I have helped bring a teacher's woes to public notice.

I sent a copy of Gwynne's Grammar, the new grammar guide which I have helped to bring to public attention, to Jeremy Paxman of the BBC. I included a covering note. Mr Paxman thanked me for the book but found fault with my letter: "That dreadful 'best ever' in the third paragraph is a sodding disgrace," he admonished. I replied that in fact the occasional use of bad grammar for rhetorical effect can be excused, whereupon he declared that my use of "in fact" was "otiose". I rushed to the dictionary. "Otiose" is derived from the Latin for "otium" meaning "leisure", but Mr Paxman used it in its correct modern sense of "superfluous". "Call yourself a grammar Nazi?" he jibed.

My grammatical attitudes were challenged by the well-known journalist AA Gill at a function. "There's no such thing as bad grammar," he boomed. "Language changes. There are no rules." Mr Gill said that he is a dyslexic who was told he was thick when at school. Even today he has a horror of writing and dictates all of his articles, rather like another very successful but under-educated writer, Jamie Oliver. These two examples of outstanding personalities demonstrate that a lack of grammar need not be an impediment to literary and worldly success. They do not convince me, though, that grammar should not be taught to the ordinary folk.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'. 'Gwynne's Grammar' is published by Ebury Press, £7.99

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant in secondary school Manchester

£11280 - £14400 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Teaching a...

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Science teachers needed in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teachers requ...

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A homeless person sleeps in the streets  

This is why I am sleeping rough outside the party conferences

Max J Freeman
Strikes were carried out by manned air force and navy aircraft (File photo)  

Syria air strikes: President Assad now has the enemy he always wanted – Islamist terrorism

Kim Sengupta
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits