The newfangled apostrophe

Outrage has broken out among pedants everywhere, as it was revealed that Waterstones has dropped the apostrophe from its name.

Waterstones is hardly the first business to make this move. For instance, Woolworths was, up until the 1980s, called Woolworth. But people called it Woolworths, so the company adopted it.

Note how many people also say Tescos instead of Tesco. The supermarket has not yet caved in to this!

There are countless other examples. A few years ago Big Rab took some snaps of some of the businesses in Dumbarton that have either dropped the apostrophe, or added an extra ‘s’. They include famous names like Barclays, Boots, Greggs and Ladbrokes.

Waterstones logo

I have to admit I thought Waterstones was already part of that club. In fact, they had indeed already dropped the apostrophe — at least on their website. To the right is the old logo as it appeared on the website. (For what it’s worth, I am dead against the lowercase ‘w’, which has now been changed back to uppercase in the new logo.)

Time to drop the apostrophe?

I do sometimes wonder if the apostrophe is more trouble than it’s worth. I am sure it could be dropped from the language without it causing too much distress.

Of course, people will always contrive examples that supposedly prove how necessary the apostrophe is. But the context normally gives you everything you need. After all, we don’t ‘say’ apostrophes when we are speaking.

The apostrophe is probably one of the most widely misused punctuation marks. Yet while pedants love to point out greengrocers’ apostrophes and the various other widespread misuses, there are few times where this actually provides a barrier to communication. If you genuinely don’t understand what is meant by the greengrocer’s “Apple’s 25p each” sign, then you have a bigger problem than the greengrocer.

I work in St Andrews. The name of the town doesn’t have an apostrophe. According to the University of St Andrews Special Collections department, this is because the town predates the introduction of the apostrophe into the English language.

So perhaps it’s time once and for all to put a stop to the newfangled apostrophe.

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