Apostrophe crimes – laying down the law

By Geraldine Johns

It’s normal practice to take a carry bag when you go to the fruit and vege shop. But often a visit leaves me wishing I’d taken something else as well: some blackboard paint.

Likewise, to walk past any real estate agency is to cause irritation of teeth-grating proportions – and it’s got nothing to do with the price of the houses on offer.

Don’t start me on restaurants. Menus are riddled with evidence of sins so great they put you off your meal.

They’re called apostrophe crimes. They leap out when you least expect them, and even when you see them coming, they still horrify.

The crime of the apostrophe takes something of a scatter-gun approach. It’s like whoever has written the piece decides at the end it needs a bit of titivation. So they just hurl a few at random – normally when there’s a spare ‘s’ lurking about.

To add to the spectacle there’s the randomisation of capitals crime – again, applied with little forethought. And just for that finishing effect, why not throw in a few exclamation marks? Key offenders here are those catalogues that appear uninvited in your letterbox; also CD shops.

Such crimes – in isolation or combined – can really give you the shudders. And although they might be laughed off in a retail sense, apostrophe catastrophes, together with their exclamation and capitialisation siblings, certainly take on graver proportions in a formal document.

These things scream at the trained eye. So to see a lapse in a professional piece submitted for consideration can only spark suspicion: what else is wrong with the content? If the author can’t get their punctuation right, what else have they failed to check for accuracy?

The thing about punctuation crime is it’s so simple to fix. There are only a few rules and they are fairly easy to apply. It’s unfortunate that, rather than take responsibility themselves, the authors of such misfortune blame spell check. Or a busy day. There really is no excuse, other than the fact that somebody didn’t pay sufficient attention.

Journalist and trainer Geraldine Johns will run two PRINZ courses in March on media relations, including short sessions on spelling and grammar as part of the day. Click here for course information and to register.

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