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This website is for those who want to remove the apostrophe from the English language, on the basis that it serves only to annoy those who know how it is supposed to be used and to confuse those who dont.

I was provoked into setting up this website by the (mostly) unreasoned comments on this article. Many of the calls to defend traditional apostrophe usage are little more than unthinking superstition. Its right because its right, runs the argument, failing to engage with the fact that its arbitrary. I suspect a lot of peoples prejudices on this matter are probably inculcated by humiliation at an early age, and leave victims frightened of the terrible social consequences they thereafter imagine will follow from deviating from the standard - this then becomes a self-reinforcing loop as they leap upon other peoples apostrophe 'misuse' like it matters, which it doesnt. The fact is that apostrophes are redundant and consume considerable time and resource and wed be better off without em.

Yes, there are a couple of functional arguments in favour of what the apostrophe does in some limited cases. Scroll down for why I think they can safely be ignored.

WHY KILL THE APOSTROPHE?

First, apostrophes are redundant. The number of cases where they make a semantic difference is absolutely minuscule (see below).

Second, they are wasteful. Tremendous amounts of money are spent every year by businesses on proof readers, part of whose job is to put apostrophes in the 'correct' place - to no semantic effect whatsoever. And the rest of us sit there clicking thru with Microsofts grammar checker, trying to work out if its telling us the truth or not about whether we really need an apostrophe there.

Third, they are just one more tool of snobbery. People who imagine that nonstandard apostrophe usage represents a 'falling of standards' tend also to assume that means they can look down on 'illiterate' people who dont follow the rules. You know, illiterate people like Shakespeares editors.

Fourth, current technology (text messaging in particular) makes it timeconsuming to use them. Why give ourselves this stress when itll make no difference anyway?

Fifth, they actually impede communication and understanding. Since so many people these days arent certain about how apostrophes work semantically its hardly going to help even if a proof-reader puts them all in the 'correct' places in some text.

Sixth, they are a distraction for otherwise reasonable and intelligent people. If youre the kind of person who does know and care about the 'correct' usage of apostrophes, think how much time you waste fretting over examples of 'misuse' when the very fact that you spotted the error means that you knew what they were trying to say in the first place. Are you a teacher who has marked a student down for apostrophe misuse? Shame on you, if so, for prioritising form over content.

WHAT ABOUT HE'LL AND HELL AND WE'RE AND WERE, SMARTASS?

OK, lets make an effort here and try to think of examples of sentences where apostrophe usage might be said to make a functional difference.

Wait a second, Im still thinking.

Um...

OK, look, Im out of time right now. If you know a sure fire example of a sentence where (for instance) we'll and well or we're and were can be mixed up in a way that actually has an impact in the real world, please email webmaster@killtheapostrophe.com. If it took you more than an hour to think of, it doesnt count. The fact that most people are unable to think of a single real-world example which left them genuinely confused about a meaning, or where they couldnt seek clarification from the context is the reason I think this objection is irrelevant.

(Most recent example sent to me: The military claims were wrong, which if its meaning were not apparent from the context of course could easily be reworded we are to clarify.)

NOT SO FAST! HOW ABOUT PLURAL POSSESSIVES?

OK, like the difference between my mother's mothers and my mothers' mothers? (This is not a silly example now we have gay adoption in so many places). Well, there is a subtlety there, I admit. However, we should consider an alternative to the apostrophe for plural possessives. Apostrophe advocates like to point out that the apostrophe stands in for missing letters, which makes it easy to know when to use it. The plural possessive is an instance where the apostrophe doesnt work as advertised and therefore should be replaced by something more consistent. My personal preference is to use the letter z for plurals, so that we could talk about, for instance, seeking the ministerz approval or seeking the ministers approval depending which we meant.

Or maybe it doesnt need to be replaced at all. Its worth adding that we manage to communicate plural possessives in spoken language just fine without apostrophes.

Singular possessives, by the way, grew out of the genitive inflection -s (or -es). I dont know how or why apostrophes got involved there, but they didnt add any meaning when they did.

UM, BUT WAIT. YOU CANT LEGISLATE THE LANGUAGE ANYWAY, SO HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO 'ABOLISH' THE APOSTROPHE?

OK, this is true. Im not asking for anyone to pass a law or a decree to abolish the apostrophe. However, I am suggesting that those who find it an irksome distraction start effecting some change down on the ground. Language evolves by the actions of individual users. So all you have to do to push the cause of killing the apostrophe is simply to start omitting it in your writing, or at least to refrain from criticising other people if they do so. You could even go so far as to do a quick find and replace in your own website, to remove all those little ' things.

If you are a dyed-in-the-wool apostrophe freak, I guess theres no harm in you guys setting up your own fandom websites for this weird little linguistic appendix. Just dont force it down our throats, OK? You may think of yourself as a defender of language or whatever, but ask yourself exactly what you are defending in the case of the apostrophe. What general or useful principle is violated by its omission or 'misuse'?

YEAH, LETS KILL THE APOSTROPHE! w00t ETC. ANYTHING ELSE I CAN DO?

Sure, you can copy this little button: killtheapostrophe.com to your own site or blog or myspace or whatever and link to here if you wish. Lets stir up a little debate and get people thinking about this small but animating issue. Heres a bit of code to use:

<p align="center">
<a href="http://www.killtheapostrophe.com">
<img src="http://www.killtheapostrophe.com/kta_button.jpg" alt="killtheapostrophe.com" border="0">
</a> <br> <small>Lets discard the apostrophe. Its pointless.</small> </p>

If youre an academic linguist who agrees that wed be better off without the apostrophe, and you can think of ways or good examples to improve the rigour of my arguments, please get in touch on the address below.

OH MY, DROPPING ALL APOSTROPHES IS A LITTLE TOO EXTREME FOR ME: I HAVE MY REPUTATION AS A LITERATE PERSON TO THINK OF - PEOPLE MIGHT CONSIDER ME MORALLY LOOSE IF I DROP APOSTROPHES. IS THERE A MORE INCREMENTAL WAY TO ACHIEVE THIS?

Well, were not all cut out to be iconoclasts, I guess. Certainly theres an incremental approach, and its been going on for a long time. Why not just drop the occasional apostrophe out of words that no longer merit it? There are some interesting precedents in recent history for this: the words 'bus, 'phone, 'plane, 'bye, 'cello and Hallowe'en have all managed to lose their apostrophes in living memory. Moreover new coinages are less likely to have them. Fridge never took on apostrophes, nor do the revised (and increasingly popular) spellings tho and thru, and words like email, altho apparently calling for apostrophes-of-ommission, have become popular without them.

I reckon you could drop apostrophes from all of your txt msgs (try apostrophising that and leave it looking readable!), and maybe some of your email communication without jeopardising your reputation as a literate person. And you could maybe start dropping the apostrophe from expressions like its, which almost everyone occasionally gets 'wrong' and which were therefore used to working out from context anyway. If that comes off without any bloodshed, maybe you might start trying tougher challenges, such as itll, shell, shed and hell.

HEY, ARE THERE ANY OTHER COOL SITES ABOUT LANGUAGE, WHICH RECOGNISE THE CONTINGENCY OF WHAT ARE OFTEN SUPPOSED TO BE ITS FIXED, OBJECTIVE RULES, THAT I CAN CHECK OUT?

Why, Im glad you asked me that. Try languagelog for some good bloggings on the subject. If youre a primary teacher, try How Do You Mean?, and theres some nice stuff at The British Library, too.


Comments to webmaster@killtheapostrophe.com.
Bear in mind that if you send rabid or pompous defences of the apostrophe we reserve the right to post your email on the site and make a lil fun of you.