true gripes apostrophes

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I hate people who can't use it. I mean - it's so simple. To look at, it's a small hook. Something you could pick your nose or scratch your bum with. It's an incomplete ear, a cat's extended claw, something you could hang your curtains from.

OK - enough imaginative bullshit. On paper, it's an apostrophe. The squiggly thing that either denotes posses- sion or the absence of one or more letters. The grammatical curl that allows "cannot" to rhyme with "aunt", "I am"to sound like "slime", and "you are" to be pronounced like "bore".

Which is what most people think it is. A bore I mean. Trying to remember where to stick it and where not to. But we've got it easy. Just look at the languages that don't have the apostrophe.

Ancient Latin for example. When the Romans weren't polishing their helmets or building viaducts, they were changing the ends of their words. When a Roman wanted to own something, they couldn't just stick a squiggle between the end of their name and a uniform "s". Words ending in "a" had to end with "ae", "us"s changed to "i"s, "ae"s to "arum"s, and "i"s to "orum"s. And that's to name but a few.

No wonder the Romans lost their empire. They probably got exhausted with having to change their names each time they possessed another country. And then look at the French. Plenty of accents to choose from - acutes, graves, circumflexes, and even cedillas, but once they get into possession, it all gets very long winded. The apocryphal "La plume de ma tante", a phrase everyone has heard of but no one was really taught, is a perfect example of this.

So here we are - the Brits - with one tiny curve and the odd "s" to worry about, and we still get it wrong. And it's so easy once you know where to insert it. If I find a sign with TOMATOES' written on it in a supermarket, I have to resist the temptation to storm up to the shop manager and say "The tomatoes' what?".

The apostrophe, in its many forms, is a short cut. If people who can't use it end up stabbing themselves in the grammatical foot, then I hope no one will accommodate their shortcomings.