The Apostrophe Hall of Shame


For over a year now, I’ve had the words “The Apostrophe Hall of Shame” on my blog post ideas board. So why haven’t I written the post until now? Not for a lack of incorrect uses of apostrophes, that’s for sure.

Actually, it’s the opposite. An abundance of not only apostrophe abuse but also poor spelling and terrible grammar consistently inflicted on the content consuming public. I’ve been so overwhelmed by bad examples that I haven’t known where to even start.

The media are particularly bad examples. Journalism was once the bastion of making sure content was written and spoken correctly. At least if the journalists weren’t getting it right, there were editors to correct their mistakes before the content went public.

Not anymore. And as Fairfax Media announces another 120 jobs to be axed in Sydney and Melbourne and their staff go on strike, I’d be concerned for the editors that remained, if I actually thought there were any.

The Age, one of Fairfax Media’s mastheads, used to be a reliable source of well-composed and well-edited writing. Now whenever I look at it (which is everyday online) I will unfailingly find errors. As I write this, there’s a headline proclaiming, “Michelles’ mum launches health plan” when, of course, it should be “Michelle’s mum launches health plan” unless there is a crazy woman out there with multiple daughters named Michelle. (My father, who continues to have The Age delivered daily in its physical format, assures me the print edition suffers from the same problems.)

It’s not just the print media though. I watched Channel Seven’s four o’clock news yesterday and within minutes of each other I’d noticed the following errors:
*“Adeladie” instead of “Adelaide” scrolling across the news ticker at the bottom of the broadcast
*“Quensland Unversity of Technology” instead of “Queensland University of Technology” underneath an academic giving his or her viewpoint on whatever the story was about (I was so distracted by the misspelling of not one but two words in the four word name of the institution – a 50% pass rate – that I have no recollection of what topic the academic was even speaking on or even whether it was a man or a woman)

And driving down the Eastlink toll road a few days ago, there was (and I imagine there still is) a huge billboard proclaiming a school I won’t name is a “leader in boys education”. I couldn’t see it but there must have been an asterisk that read, “Excludes apostrophes” because, of course, it should have said it is a “leader in boys’ education”.

It’s all evidence of the “write and publish” generation. For some reason, nobody thinks to write, review and publish even though it would save the humiliation of looking like children doing the work of adults. Or worse, idiots doing the work of the educated.

It goes further than written content though. A few weeks ago I was watching a television report on Cardinal George Pell and his testimony to the Royal Commission on institutional sexual abuse in Australia. His declaration of a lack of interest in rumours of sexual abuse during his time in the Ballarat diocese brought forth gasps from the audience who had flown to Rome to be in the room when he testified.

Yes, it was shocking. But I was more appalled at the journalist who intoned over footage of him leaving his apartment and getting into a car that there was “no evidence of the heart condition that has prevented him from returning to Australia to testify”. I haven’t heard a single word about it since so clearly nobody else much minded. But what evidence would there be exactly of George Pell’s heart condition? Clutching at his chest as he stumbled towards the car? It’s a heart condition, not a heart attack, and the only way we’d be able to see evidence of it would be with medical devices and lengthy training in order to know what to look for.

It is becoming clearer to me with every passing day that I have entered middle age because I am so hair-tearingly frustrated with the lack of even an attempt to get content right and to have it make sense (so frustrated I might have just made up a word). Yes, I’ve always been frustrated by these things but never has it seemed to be so prevalent before in my lifetime. And, yes, this is a rant. Sorry. I probably should have said that at the beginning of the post but I wanted it to be read.

There are solutions but being taught proper English is apparently less important for primary school students than knowing how to code. Knowing how to compose a cogent argument is apparently less important for secondary school students than knowing how to create an app. And knowing how to think for themselves is apparently less important for university students than learning how to earn lots of money (although with the cost of tertiary education these days, we can hardly blame them).

I weep for our youth. I weep for our language. I weep for myself and people like me who come to seem like nutters because we care about apostrophes and misspellings and misplaced modifiers and singular nouns in an unholy union with plural possessive pronouns.

But I will continue to swim against this tsunamic tide. I don’t know what else to do. I’m not ready to give up. Especially since it’s not that hard. And if the French-speaking nations of the world can go so far as to create an entire organisation to safeguard the French language from Anglicisation (you can read about La Francophonie here), surely we can put a little bit of effort into making them have to work at it.

After all, to paraphrase Mr Wickham in Lost in Austen, “A war between English and French is traditional.” I would love for it to be a fair fight.


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