Monday, 29 November 2010

Apostrophe abuse and neglect

I'm reading a recent judgment - no need to mention which one - which quotes at some length from correspondence passing between the parties' solicitors. I am appalled that neither side manages consistently to use apostrophes correctly. There are possessives that lack apostrophes and a possessive form of the neuter third person singular pronoun with one in. At least that partly restores the number of apostrophes present, even if they are not in the right places.

I have worked in busy offices where dictation has come back - often in a ready-to-sign form - with errors in it, and I have probably taken the view that trying to correct them all would be beyond Sisyphus. Sometimes the letter (or fax, or whatever) just has to go, and there is no time to correct it. We are dealing with what is possible here, not trying to achieve perfection. I suspect that the solicitors involved were in such a situation. In any event, I will be charitable. I will also be charitable to the persons who abused and neglected the apostrophes, as I don't think the education system imparts a sufficient understanding of the rules of grammar, though bearing in mind that JK Rowling and others have caused a huge increase in the amount of reading done by young people, and therefore in their exposure to the correct use of apostrophes, the education system's failings are a feeble excuse.

What has struck me is that any temptation to cut corners when correcting correspondence, or other documents, must be resisted. It's one thing getting it wrong when only the other side will see: it's quite another to have your work uploaded to BAILII.

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