This week, I pay tribute to an apostrophe warrior who fought a good fight to make people stop abusing the poor punctuation mark.
I first mentioned John Richards a year ago when he announced the closure of his Apostrophe Protection Society. As an apostrophe warrior, Richards possessed a distaste for apostrophe abuse even stronger than my own.
I couldn’t help but respect that.
Richards died last week at age 97, according to his family.
The retired journalist created England’s Apostrophe Protection society in 2001 to protect the symbol from misuse and abuse. I think it was a noble effort.
But besides his age, he blamed the decision on “the overwhelming laziness and lack of concern for the language.”
The biggest misuse of the little mark that he noted was its incessant use in improperly making a singular word plural.
People write “brother’s” when they mean brothers.
They write “book’s” when they mean books.
You don’t make a word plural by adding an apostrophe. An apostrophe indicates possession.
If Donna owns multiple books, the items on her shelves are Donna’s books. You use an apostrophe-S after Donna’s name to indicate she owns the objects. You don’t need an apostrophe in books because they don’t own anything.
Most of us learned this in grade school. At least, I know I didn’t sleep through those lessons.
But scroll through your Facebook page and you’ll probably find examples of misuse fairly quickly.
Richards worked for regional newspapers in England, primarily as a reporter, for 35 years. He also spent time as a copy-editor. For someone who appreciates good grammar, copyediting is a great way to drive yourself nuts.
Those of us who’ve ever served in that capacity quickly develop our own pet peeves. Like Richards, I detested the nonsensical misuse of the apostrophe.
It can’t be this difficult to get it right, I’ve thought on more than one occasion.
Apparently, it was. And still is.
While Richards may not have won the war he waged on poor grammar, he left a mark. And those of us who appreciate so noble a fight should pause to remember his efforts and be grateful for them.
We still need more like him these days.