Grammarians everywhere are mourning the loss of the Apostrophe Protection Society, an online organization founded by retired journalist John Richards in 2001.
Richards intended the organization to be a resource for writers, but as he advanced in age (he was 96), he was starting to think there was no point in persisting with this whole grammar thing.
He wrote on the site,
“Fewer organizations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English language.
The ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!”
The (totally unsatisfying) answer is that it kind of depends on whether or not you think written language should reflect spoken language or not – and most people say not. We don’t pronounce apostrophes, just like we don’t say ‘period’ or ‘question marks’ at the end of a sentence.
Many people feel that apostrophes are still important in writing, though, and head of English Colin Matthews explained to the BBC that they are about “clarity in meaning.”
Which, okay, but clarity in meaning isn’t exactly something the English language has been concerned about, historically.
Also, the claim that the modern world is killing the apostrophe also isn’t technically correct – Merriam-Webster has pointed out that apostrophes have been debated for hundreds of years, and even Shakespeare didn’t always seem convinced they were necessary.
It’s definitely plausible to suggest, however, that the digital nature of so much of our media consumption has opened the door for more people to use apostrophes (or not) willy nilly. You can’t use them in hashtags (annoying!), and with character constrictions, they’re an easy thing to leave out.
And that’s the thing about language – it’s always changing to fit how people are currently using it, confirms NYU linguistics professor Laurel Mackenzie.
“The evolution of language is nothing that we can try to stop, it’s inevitable.”
Which is all to say, RIP Apostrophe Protection Society.
I do believe, though, that more grammarians and apostrophe lovers will rise to take Mr. Richards’ place in the world of asserting correct punctuation and grammar. And others will continue to shrug it off.
Thus is the world, apparently, that we have always lived in, whether we knew it or not.