Sunday, 19 January 2014

Too complicated for councils

Cambridge City Council is dropping apostrophes from their street signs because they think they are too complicated. I know, it sounds like some kind of absurdist joke, but it turns out that it is true.

The thought that ran through my head when I first read that:

  • Maybe the council think apostrophes are too complicated for their residents? That would surely be an indictment of their education system, and suggest they need to run things better. More likely it is the councillors who have trouble with them.
  • They mention the emergency services in that piece, but it is a red herring - any tools the emergency services use for finding addresses should be based on free text, so a search for "scholar road" would find every variant (Scholar's Road, Scholar Road, Scholars' Road). At least with apostrophes they could then be differentiated.
  • The council's other option would be to just avoid possessives in street names. Call it Scholar Street. Queen Row. Densecouncil Lane. Then they could sidestep the whole issue, still match the guidelines, and nobody would mind. The irritation is that they use half the rules for possessives (a letter 's') but ignore the other half of the rules (the apostrophe). All that achieves is making things more confusing and ambiguous.
  • They say they only had one objection, but if they are anything like the council's I know, they will have kept the whole thing very quiet, so probably only one person knew about it before they made the decision.
I know that this is only a minor issue when compared to massive problems such as human impacts on the environment, loss of wildlife, wars, the abuse of other species (and our own); still, it doesn't mean we should therefore ignore it. Any thoughts?

Update: 27th January 2014, I did a bit of digging.
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1 comments:

Alyson said...

I can be a pedant over grammar rules and language, but mainly when it leads to ambiguous meanings (the classic one being "Let's eat Grandma", but can also be happy to accept language changing. The language we use today to speak and write has changed since the 1800s, the 1500s etc. So, if there is a good reason for changing, fine. But to change because people get things wrong/can't understand it, well, that's just not necessary. Just teach people. And, quite unbelievable in a city famous for its education.