Apostrophes, part 2

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In my "Apostrophe News" entry of a week ago, I said that I hadn't seen anyone point out that the city council of Birmingham, England, was following in the footsteps of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names when it banished apostrophes from street signs. That's because I didn't read Michael Quinion's discussion of the flap as carefully as it deserved.

Quinion concludes: 

My impression is that fashion, the real difficulties that exist in some cases, and -- particularly -- the absence of firm teaching of grammar and punctuation in school, are all leading to an accelerating decline in the correct use of the mark.

I couldn't agree more. If everybody understood the rules governing apostrophes, there would be less temptation to break them. If we didn't see the rules broken all the time, we'd find it easier to understand what the rules are, and apostrophes would be better able to do their job.    



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Visit Barbara Wallraff’s blog, at barbarawallraff .theatlantic.com, to see more commentary on language and to submit Word Fugitive queries and words that meet David K. Prince’s need. Readers whose queries are published and those who take top honors will receive an autographed copy of Wallraff’s most recent book, Word Fugitives. More

Barbara WallraffBarbara Wallraff, a contributing editor and columnist for The Atlantic, has worked for the magazine for 25 years. She is also a weekly syndicated newspaper columnist for King Features and the author of Word Fugitives (2006), Your Own Words (2004), and the national best-seller Word Court (2000). Her writing about language has appeared in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Wilson Quarterly, The American Scholar, and The New York Times Magazine.

Wallraff has been an invited speaker at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the National Writers Workshop, the Nieman Foundation, Columbia Journalism School, the British Institute Library of Florence, and national or international conventions of the American Copy Editors Society, the Council of Science Editors, the International Education of Students organization, and the Journalism Education Association. She has been interviewed about language on the Nightly News With Tom Brokaw and dozens of radio programs including Fresh Air, The Diane Rehm Show, and All Things Considered. National Public Radio's Morning Edition once commissioned her to copy edit the U.S. Constitution. She is a member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel. The Genus V edition of the game Trivial Pursuit contains a question about Wallraff and her Word Court column.

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