Oh, what's the use?

For years, John Richards has been fighting an uphill battle. In retirement, the former journalist founded the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001 to advocate for the correct use of the humble – and increasingly abused – punctuation mark. When spotting a particularly egregious example, he'd fire off a polite letter to the guilty party from his home in Boston, England, explaining how not to repeat the error. Word of his mission spread, and hundreds of like-minded people rallied to his support from as far away as Australia and Hong Kong. Still, ever-growing numbers of the grammatically challenged keep making the problem worse, writing, for instance, "Order Valentine rose's now." Then there is the anguish that officials in Birmingham, England's second-largest city, are causing. They have decided to eliminate apostrophes from all street signs, even those pointing to the best-known tourist attractions, such as Perrott's Folly. Why? Well, as Councilman Martin Mullaney tells it, there was the issue of consistency because some signs had them and others didn't, and "as a council, we have got to make a decision one way or the other." Besides, he said, apostrophes "confuse people," not to mention those global-positioning gizmos that more and more motorists depend on for directions. And they "denote possessions that are no longer accurate," such as the suburb of King's Heath – er, make that Kings Heath – which no longer is owned by a monarch. Asked for comment, Richards said (and one can picture him shaking his head sadly): "Absolute defeatism.... [D]umbing down, really. It is setting a very bad example."

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