Belfast Telegraph

Apostrophe gaffe on Dickens poster costs taxpayers £1k ... and drives NI authors wild

By David Young

A council slip-up over a misplaced apostrophe has cost ratepayers more than £1000 - and in the process has driven normally mild-mannered authors wild.

There were red faces at Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council after the grammar gaffe appeared on a billboard and in promotional material for a performance of Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.

The much-loved Victorian-era author's work had been called Charles Dicken's Great Expectations on the huge posters.

The BBC reported the reprinting of the material cost around £1,200, which included £140 spent on correcting 48 sheets, £95 on delivering additional leaflets, £295 on reprinting advertising boards, £332 on flyers and posters and £290 on a window vinyl.

The cost of reprinting is one thing: but it was the grammatical error that angered a Northern Ireland writer.

Author Malachi O'Doherty - a former Writer in Residence at Queen's University, Belfast, and self-confessed grammar fascist - was furious at the sloppiness in the use of the apostrophe.

"The apostrophe is a crucial element of English grammar," said Mr O'Doherty, whose latest book Gerry Adams: An Unauthorised Life comes out next month.

"If you have to write in any kind of professional capacity - from writing a book to writing a job application or a CV - to have any credibility you have to know how to use the apostrophe properly."

He said the inability to use apostrophes properly reveals a poor education - but that is the fault of schoolteachers.

"If teachers think they are doing young people any kind of favour by telling them that apostrophes are unimportant, that's unforgiveable.

"They're doing their pupils a profound disservice."

Belfast playwright Rosemary Jenkinson also took a firm line on the matter of rogue apostrophes.

Ms Jenkinson - whose new play Michelle and Arlene hits the Belfast stage later this month - said she was extremely careful about getting apostrophes right.

"Apostrophes are nightmare territory for most writers. I'd be really embarrassed about proof-readers shaming me - that would be my version of the 'walk of shame'. It's a special type of fear that only authors have."

She said that because she is so careful to get apostrophes right, spotting mistakes had turned her into a "grammar dominatrix".

"It's such a librarian, geeky thing," she said.

In a statement sent to the Belfast Telegraph, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council said they'd done the right thing by reprinting the promotional material, once the mistake was spotted.

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