London, Aug. 21: It’s — or should that be its' — been the bane of the lives of generations of schoolchildren.
But now the apostrophe — a cornerstone of English, the humble status of which belies its notoriety for being devilishly difficult to master — is facing redundancy as a result of sloppy use.
According to research by the Oxford Dictionary of English, the misuse and omission of apostrophes has become so commonplace that it threatens to undermine what has long been a strict rule of grammar. The researchers examined hundreds of millions of published words and found that the use of apostrophes had become something of a random affair. Angus Stevenson, co-editor of the latest edition of the dictionary, said that people were much less punctilious.
And the burgeoning use of “the greengrocer’s apostrophe” — so-called because of shopkeepers’ propensity to display signs for “pear’s” or “banana’s” — was not confined to e-mails, the Internet and, well, greengrocers.
He said: “It’s quite common to find the unorthodox use of apostrophes in newspapers, journals and books — and it is not particularly remarked on. Officially, it is still regarded as poor style and wrong.
“But over time it may become acceptable.”