Illiterate England: 10 signs that we’re losing it

March 12, 2014 10:25 am
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Professor Horobin of Magdalen College, Oxford University

Wednesday 29th May 2013. The day that Oxford University English professor Simon Horobin became a Judas to English Grammar Nazis all over the world. The day that he dared to say, at The Telegraph Hay Literary Festival no less, that it wouldn’t be sacrilegious to have one standardized spelling for the three homophones they’retheir and there, as well as posing the question “is the apostrophe so crucial to the preservation of our society?” to a group of stunned-into-silence literary buffs… perhaps, as he found, not the ideal audience for a question such as that.

Now, don’t stop reading there because you predict that I am about to sit for 15 minutes on my high horse snobbishly scorning those who miss the odd apostrophe or those who don’t always use capital letters at the beginnings of sentences on Facebook. Whether you’ve got this far through sheer interest or because you know me and feel like you ought to, please do continue.

In a word, Professor Horobin, yes. Apostrophes are there for a reason, and you of all people should respect that. What a traitor. If an Oxford University English professor isn’t the biggest pedant and Grammar Nazi of them all, then the rest of us really have no right to utter a word about today’s Internet users and the state of they’re English (…see what I did their?). Professor Horobin clings onto the argument that language is fluid and the fact that there were over 500 different spellings of the word through in Middle English means that spelling isn’t as important as is made out and we should spell things however we fancy. No. We are no longer in the Middle English period. What kind of English professor suggests that because the majority of people spell something wrong, we should change the spelling so that the whole English language is turned upside down into some warped universe where the minority of people who are, in fact, bothering to spell the word correctly, would then be spelling it incorrectly?

Is he really suggesting we be punished for intelligence? He has absolutely lost it.

Now, I am not ashamed to say that I myself am a Grammar Nazi. Granted, I don’t take it as far as some people do; I can understand that capital letters and full stops need not be utilised to such great extent in our world of social media compared to the extent to which they should be in writing, but I do, however, strongly stand for there being at least a basic level of understanding when it comes to our own language: the differences in they’re, their and there; the fact that you should not use apostrophes for plurals; the difference between your and you’re. In fact, it would just be nice to believe that the people who use the English language correctly are those to whom English is their first language. Sadly, for the most part, that is not the case.

My keen eye for grammar is as much as curse as a gift. I need not to look for spelling or grammar errors in my everyday environment as they somehow leap off their billboards or posters or menus or magazines straight into my eye line, regardless of where I am. Everywhere I look, I see some form of error. No matter how big the company or how big the billboard, the mistake stands proudly in its font, staring at the public, rendering them more and more stupid with every passing glance.

Well, I won’t stand for it, and it’s time to name and shame. Simon Horobin, are you really going to sit by and accept these grammatical abominations as “natural movements of the English language”? Ladies and gents, brace yourselves:

981695_10151968708283868_1323381491_o (1)Number one. I wonder what Professor Horobin would have had to say had he opened this card on his 21st birthday.
Sadly, as much as I had hoped it was, this card was not a joke sent with the intention of winding me up. It was a genuine error that apparently bypassed the designer, the printer, the shop owner, the buyer and everyone else it had to go through to make it into my living room on the day of my 21st. Ugh. Bad start.

Correct form: your

paninisNumber two: Milton Keynes Coach Station. For me, this is one of the most aggravating. The decorator had done so well with every other plural on the wall but unfortunately fell at the last hurdle. Baguettes, no problem. Salads, easy peasy. But panini? Ignoring the fact that this word of Italian origin is actually plural already (shown by the -i at the end), if we are going to anglicise it and stick our own sign of a plural on there too, surely we should at least do it right?
This word is pluralised incorrectly so, so often that it is one of the few (ha) that really grinds my gears. With this information very well known amongst my entourage, I receive a text almost every day that says, “want to go for panini’s when your back?”
I never reply.

Correct form: Paninis

980541_10151968709038868_427003156_oNumber three: Heathrow Airport, London. Now, I’m not convinced that if you walk into this coffee shop you will be greeted by multiple people called Joe, so every time I’m flying off to some exotic land it takes every fibre of my being not to hoist myself up on a step ladder and paint a big, bold apostrophe between the e and the s. Look, there’s even room for one.
Deep breaths.

Correct form: If this is indeed the coffee house of one Joe, then it should be Joe’s. If there is more than one Joe that owns this place (unlikely), then it should be Joes’.

477918_10151968711468868_956347383_oNumber four: singer Michael Bublé’s Official Lyric video for his new song ‘Beautiful Day’. Unless he’s talking about  the ‘fine’ of someone or something, which I’m willing to bet he’s not, there should sure as hell be an apostrophe in there. I thought better of you, Mike. Baby it is fine.
IT’S NOT HARD.

Correct form: It’s

178099_10151968711958868_1887229338_oNumber five: a Dreams plc. billboard in Banbury, Oxfordshire. Dreams boasts, on that very billboard right there,  that they are the leading Bed Specialist in Britain. Shame that a company with 170 stores over the UK couldn’t get someone to make their billboards without adding a whopping great grammatical fault, isn’t it?
Please, trust me, there really is no need to be afraid of the apostrophe. As a general rule (which really should have been learned and perfected in primary school), possession = apostrophe.
COME ON.

Correct form: Britain’s

mensNumber six: the back of a Swansea University Varsity 2013 t shirt. This one’s quite a special kind of retardation. When it comes to the plural of man, the big guns at Swansea can give themselves a pat on the back that they got step one right with men.
Well done team.
Step two to signify the fact that it is the Rugby Union of the men was apparently too much for them, however, and they panicked, abandoning completely the obligatory apostrophe, resulting in a completely made up word mens.
MENS ISN’T NOW, NOR WILL IT EVER BE, A WORD. You at uniclothingstore need to take a long, hard look at yourselves, and maybe go back to school.

Correct form: Men’s

966818_10151968711078868_668961232_oNumber seven. These people have gone to such great lengths to avoid the possessive apostrophe that they have followed in Swansea’s students’ footsteps and fobbed off the correct possessive form daddy’s for the plural form daddies, through what I can only imagine is sheer fear of the apostrophe.
Since when can a plural stand in for a possessive?

I’ll tell you when.

Never.

Surely it’s more complicated to change the spelling of the entire word than to just simply add ‘s to the original? English grammar is really, really not as hard as people whinge about. If they took five minutes to learn the rules that render our language comprehensible, it would keep my blood pressure down and everybody would be just that little bit smarter.
Win-win.

Correct form: Presuming this little girl has just one daddy, then daddy’s.

Looking through all these photos is making me sad.

mens2Number eight: Superdrug’s website. Wow, Superdrug, you went for the double pluralisation too? Maybe you ought to stop hiring people who graduate from Swansea University. Mens is STILL NOT A WORD. It’s just not.

Correct form: Men’s

977481_10151968716943868_495620594_oNumber nine:  a birthday card on Moonpig.com. Moonpig, like so many of the others we have already seen, have decided to boycott the poor possessive apostrophe and are flying without it.
Men/man/man’s/men’s/mens seems to be causing a disturbing amount of confusion, so, to clear things up:
Man = singular
Men = plural
Man’s = singular possessive
Men’s = plural possessive
Mens = a made up idiot’s word
Easy.

What makes things even worse here is that they have decided to use  my name in amongst all of that grammatical inaccuracy. It’s like they KNOW.

Correct forms: girl’s, man’s

979816_10151968717898868_292708266_oNumber 10: a comments book from WH Smith. Now, what better way to end than on a controversial grammar point? In my humble opinion, this book is in desperate need of an apostrophe: visitors’ book. A book for the visitors. However, there is an argument that the book does not actually belong to the visitors, and therefore no possessive apostrophe is needed, hence a widespread split of opinion.

The same argument is had for Father’s Day. Although not a physical possession of the day by the fathers, for me, each person has one father to whom the day is dedicated. So, Father’s Day, with the apostrophe before the -s. However, there are also arguments to support Fathers Day without the apostrophe (a day that is about fathers, not one which belongs to them) and Fathers’ Day with the apostrophe after the -s (a day which belongs to all fathers).
So which form is right?

Correct form: In my opinion, Visitors’ Book and Father’s Day

Something needs to happen to stop this massacring of the English language so publicly. Sort out our schools, start penalising companies for not using grammar correctly, enforce some kind of system which puts the importance of our language back up where it should be! The Apostrophe Protection Society (yes, that does actually exist) and I cannot go it alone, and I can only say that I am exhausted, fighting a losing battle against people who are supposedly on our side, like Professor Horobin, as well as those who just have no idea how our language system works.

So finally, as the well known example goes:

Let’s eat, grandma! or Let’s eat grandma.

Good grammar saves lives.

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  • Ann P. Nilsen

    Really really interesting. I am going to have to watch out for apostrophe mistakes!!

  • Neil Hodson

    Top rant Em; best yet.

  • Jomo

    I think your to pedantic, lifes too short too worry about apostrophe’s!!!

    • Stephanie C.

      I must correct your grammar opposites here… To be in line with the rest of your sentence you surely should have written “to short”. Gotta grammar police even in humourous grammar opposites.

      Nice article Emily. :)

  • Ashley

    Clever, witty, well written.

  • Miles Hardman

    People mistaking ‘too’ for ‘to’ is also one of my pet hates, especially as an English student! I don’t like to sound too prescriptivist though!

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