The Scourge of Misplaced Apostrophes

A few days ago a newspaper article with a remarkable headline caught my attention. It stated that there was a mysterious Apostrophe Vigilante on the loose somewhere in Bristol, one of Britain’s great business centres in the west of England.

The anonymous Apostrophiser (as he likes to call himself), apparently said on a radio programme that he thinks it is a crime to have apostrophes placed incorrectly on shops and garage signs – to mention just a couple of offenders he has dealt with! Since 2003 he has been hunting down signs that offend him, by adding or deleting the offensive apostrophe, claiming that he thinks it will teach people correct grammar and that it a cause worth pursuing.

Curiously enough the year 2003 coincides with the date of publication of one of my favourite books Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. The book is subtitled The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation and was a surprise Christmas bestseller, making me wonder if the book had been the inspiration for the phantom Apostrophiser’s activities?

The author said she wondered (probably tongue-in-cheek) about telling people to shin up ladders at dead of night with an apostrophe-shaped stick and a tin of paint? Presumably to deal with another errant punctuation mark that had appeared on a public sign. Perhaps there is a growing underground movement of apostrophisers coming to the aid of sticklers (as Lynne Truss describes people like herself) for grammatical correctness!

If so, it is little wonder that when her book unexpectedly hit the No.1 bestseller spot on Amazon U.K. it quickly ran to a second print, and that she was offered a £75,000 advance for the American edition – and that was back in 2003.

I’m certain the eye-catching title had a lot to do with its success. It’s one of her favourite jokes, and for those of you who haven’t quite got it, here it is again:

A panda wanders into a bar and orders a sandwich. He eats it, fires a gun, and then makes his way to the door.

‘Why did you do that?’ asks the barman, in a state of shock at the panda’s behaviour.

‘Look it up,’ said the panda, throwing a badly punctuated wildlife manual over his shoulder as he leaves the bar.

The barman checks the relevant page and finds the answer: Panda. A large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.

It makes me smile every time.

W.L