I blame the teachers

It’s never a good idea to get me started on the issue of apostrophes and their misuse. We could be here all day.

It’s bad enough that our erstwhile nation of shopkeepers now litters our pavements with A-boards announcing the joys of Carrot’s, Lettuces’s and Todays Special Offer’s. Casually lazy officialese fills forms and instructions with desperate examples of a tentative grasp on basic English grammar.

But I am genuinely outraged by today’s Newsletter from none other than the senior staff team at Boy 3 (of 3)’s school. In two A4 pages it is at the very least disappointing that our educators manage to (mis)use apostrophes to denote plurals in no less than three instances. Upcoming “disco’s” indeed!

It’s simply not good enough and I therefore propose that the current Head Teacher be replaced by Bob the Angry Flower.

Next time on the Apostrophe Channel – what the hell are Americans doing calling their offspring names like k’Tel, N’MiBeeyA and A’choo?  It will all end in tear’s.

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4 Responses to I blame the teachers

  1. Anonymous says:


    For what it’s worth…

    I’m now an educational heretic. We’re now advised to teach apostrophes early – during P5 for many, or possibly even earlier. I’m opposed to this. For myself, in my classroom, my practice is to get children not to use them at all. Not ever. Certainly not until they’re ready to use them – I find their incorrect absence more tolerable than their blatantly incorrect presence. I’d rather not teach them formally until an average of P7, perhaps. I’ve found that (many) children find the dual-use concept of apostrophes very difficult to process when they first encounter teaching about it – hence I’d rather delay this until they are more ready.

    Thinking about it on a different scale for a moment…

    The systemisation of written language is a relatively recent concept; spelling and grammar have only been fixed in the UK for a relatively short length of time. For instance, Dr Johnson’s Dictionary was published in 1755. The Education (Scotland) Act 1872 established compulsory education for children between 5 and 13. If we think comparatively of how long humanity has lived a (relatively) settled existence – perhaps 10 000 years? (Please note absence of comma for numbers – I promote use of a space instead to avoid confusion with European practice!) Think of that 10 000 years of our settled existence in terms of a single day, with today falling at midnight of the day. I’m 40 – on this day-scale, that was 5.8 minutes ago. Dr Johnson published his dictionary at 11:38pm, 22 minutes ago. On an evolutionary scale, it’s nothing.

    Sympathy about the receipt of that letter. Having written many such letters, I’ve been on the other side of them before. (Though my apostrophal usage is, I hope correct…) I’ve pulled a letter at the last minute, when there’s a whole school run of them photocopied, when I’ve spotted a typo. This was unpopular, let’s say. I wince at work in displays on school walls with incorrect apostrophes – I will pass one later this morning. If you haven’t read the Lynne Truss book, do: she’s grumpy, but good.

    • weekeef says:

      Re: Apostrophes

      Hello Anonymous Reader :o)

      I like your pragmatic approach to teaching the apostrophe, and I will not argue that the concept is difficult to grasp at first. But you do teach it, and I am old fashioned enough to believe that is important to know the “right way” to speak, write, behave. One can then choose to follow that way, or adjust it according to circumstance.

      My issue here is that a Head Teacher should simply know better, and should then proof read anything going out for public consumption. And yes, we all make mistakes from time to time. I learned that the day I sent a letter to a very senior person at Anus Council (as opposed to Angus).

      More generally, I know what you are saying about the evolution of language, but your time line only really works in a linear way. In fact, the evolution of language (which is a good thing) does not work that way. More importantly, it may only be half an hour since the printing press started the process of systemisation, but think what that systemised language has done in terms of enabling sociological and technological change in such a short time. Without writing, we would not be able to walk on the Moon.

      And yes, I have read Lynne Truss – and enjoyed it. Like her, I am grumpy but good! I also enjoyed The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg. A rollicking good read!

  2. alnya says:

    I manage to hold two completely contradictory positions on this simultaniously. One on hand, the incorrect use of the apostrophe is distracting and annoying and I do often judge places of business and people based on their grammar knowlege. I have actually complained to the manager of Sainsburies for a sign that read “CD’s”.

    On the other hand, language is evolving all the time and I think they are unneccesarily confusing, and are now trotted out as a signifier of stupidity unfairly. It’s easy and obvious to complain about their innapropriate use (in fact, its now a cliché). In my day job, if something was used wrongly that often, I’d suggest a change to the process – it’s clearly not working: grammar tools are there to simplify understanding after all.

    • weekeef says:

      I do try to curb my pedantry on the subject but, as noted in the reply above, my issue with this particular case was that it came from, or was at least passed by a Head Teacher. Not only that, but a Head Teacher of a school which makes a specific point of assuring parents and guardians that it subscribes to “the three Rs” to give a good basic grounding for life. Parents and guardians in these here parts like that sort of talk. In fact, quite a few of them moved here because of it.

      More widely, I accept what you say about your day job, but I might also point out that your day job is rooted in its own very specialised language which has its own syntax and punctuation which must be followed lest all hell break loose.

      For my day job, the apostrophe is (or should be) important still. But then in my day job, if something is used wrongly that often we (a) set up a “short life working group”, (b) throw money at it, and (c) act surprised in ten years when the position hasn’t changed :o)

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