By Virginia Parker staat
“The reason it’s worth standing up for punctuation is not that it’s an arbitrary system of notation known only to an over-sensitive elite who have attacks of the vapours when they see it misapplied. The reason to stand up for punctuation is that without it there is no reliable way of communicating meaning.”
~ Lynn Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
Many of you may not even have noticed. Over the past several years, I have written about National Punctuation Day for each of my September Rocky Mountain Outdoor writingarticles. I did not this year. I was mourning the demise of one of my favorite organizations, The Apostrophe Protection Society. In 2001, the Apostrophe Protection Society (APS) began with “a mission to preserve the correct use of this important, though much misused, item of punctuation.”
The APS was founded by England’s own John Richards, who reached semi-celebrity status after he was featured as Mr. October in a calendar purported to highlight the most boring men in Britain. Working diligently to save the apostrophe, Richard’s first success was when a local library changed from writing “CD’s” to “CDs.” After years of dedication, however, in 2019 (and at the age of 96), Richards felt it was time to dissolve the Apostrophe Protection Society. He lamented, “We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best, but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!”
I was heartbroken. I was one of the organization’s most ardent supporters. Lynn Truss best explained how many of us feel about the apostrophe in her book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. She said, “The rule is: the word ‘it’s’ (with apostrophe) stands for ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. If the word does not stand for ‘it is’ or ‘it has’ then what you require is ‘its’. This is extremely easy to grasp. Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation. No matter that you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, ‘Good food at it’s best’, you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.”
Truss went on to say, “Why did the Apostrophe Protection Society not have a militant wing? Could I start one? Where do you get balaclavas?” I admit that in a wild fit of emotion I once considered joining her.
With the APS gone, however, all — especially the apostrophe — seemed lost. I bravely tried to continue celebrating National Punctuation Day, but as each September passed, my efforts felt more and more hollow.
So I decided I must move on and wrote an entirely different kind of article for this past September’s newsletter. A few weeks after I had sent the article off to editor Don Laine, I was once-again mourning the loss of the APS. It was September 24, National Punctuation Day. I decided to go to the APS website (apostrophe.org.uk) one last time… for old time’s sake. This time, however, my heart skipped a beat. Could it be true? The APS had a new leader! As of January 2022, Chairman Bob McCalden had revived the Apostrophe Protection Society in order “to continue its mission to champion the use of the apostrophe.”
I lovingly checked each of the website’s pages. Once again we aficionados can find validation for the appropriate uses of the apostrophe. We can chuckle at examples of horrific apostrophe blunders. We can follow links to other sites with punctuation tips and follow the APS Facebook page. And under the guidance of the new chairman, we can expect expanded material including how to use apostrophes in brand names.
I immediately contacted APS to ask if they might be able to provide a photo of their new chairman. Bob McCalden, himself, wrote me back. It’s an email I will treasure for many years.
I can sleep peacefully now, knowing that the Apostrophe Protection Society is back at its post. All is right with the world… at least in the world of punctuation. Happy belated National Punctuation Day.