Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Street signs apostrophe ban planned

Devon councillors are looking to ban apostrophes from their street signs

Councillors in Devon are considering banning apostrophes from their street signs because of the "potential confusion" the punctuation causes.

Mid Devon District Council said its new streets had not contained apostrophes for many years, but the policy could now be made official. It follows the announcement from book retailer Waterstones last year to remove the punctuation from its brand name.

The council's suggestion has been widely condemned.

Council communications manager Andrew Lacey 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. Although there is no national guidance that stops apostrophes being used, for many years the convention we've followed here is for new street names not to be given apostrophes.

"In fact, there are currently only three official street names in Mid Devon which include them: Beck's Square and Blundell's Avenue, both in Tiverton, and St George's Well in Cullompton - all named many, many years ago. No final decision has yet been made and the proposed policy will be discussed at cabinet."

Dr Sian Harris, lecturer in English literature at the University of Exeter, said the proposals were likely to lead to greater confusion. She said: "Usually the best way to teach about punctuation is to show practical examples of it - removing them from everyday life would be a terrible shame and make that understanding increasingly difficult. English is a complicated language as it is - removing apostrophes is not going to help with that at all."

She said the proposals reflected "changes in the way people communicate", adding: "On Twitter, for example, you cannot use punctuation in hashtags. Perhaps, for branding purposes on social media, people don't want to have punctuation in their names."

Former culture secretary and journalist Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, took to Twitter to condemn the plans. He wrote: "Tory Mid Devon Council bans the apostrophe to 'avoid confusion'... Whole point of proper grammar is to avoid confusion!"

The decision will be made at a future meeting of the Mid Devon District Council Cabinet.

A spokesman from the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "Whilst this is ultimately a matter for the local council, ministers' view is that England's apostrophes should be cherished."

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