By Ashley Lister
Today I’m the bearer of sad news. The Apostrophe Protection Society has shut down with the bleak explanation that ‘ignorance has won’.
I was going to use this spot to talk about my new book, available in a little under two weeks, How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published. It’s a fantastic little book that goes into the mechanics of writing short stories. The book is based on knowledge and experience I’ve accrued from fifteen years of teaching creative writing, and from twenty-five years of being a published author, and from the research I conducted whilst acquiring my PhD in creative writing. If you want to write short fiction, I want you to buy a copy of the book. Here’s a picture of it, if you’re curious.
But, rather than promoting my personal interests, because I know how important punctuation is to clarity of communication, I wanted to spend some time talking about punctuation and the closure of the Apostrophe Protection Society.
Punctuation is an essential aspect of the written word that lends clarity to communication. This is important because, during spoken communication, we can use a variety of prosodic features, such as pausing, increasing or decreasing the speed of our speech, making our voices louder to show anger, or finishing a sentence on a rising intonation to suggest a question. These nuances, which we take for granted with the spoken word, are difficult to replicate in written communication.
Take, for example, the old internet joke about punctuation being the difference between: ‘I helped my Uncle Jack off a horse’, and: ‘I helped my uncle jack off a horse’. Similar amusement is gleaned from the need for a comma in the sentence, ‘Let’s eat Grandma,’ or the oxford comma needed for the newspaper article which described the content of a programme as presenter Peter Ustinov having encounters, ‘with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.’
Punctuation provides the signposts readers need to understand the subtle inflections we take for granted on hearing the spoken word. Apostrophes are a very important aspect of that understanding. For example, if we take the unpunctuated sentence, ‘The boys books’, the reader doesn’t know if the books belong to a single boy or several of them. Admittedly, this is not the sort of world-changing sentence that will make everyone think, ‘We need more punctuation’, but it is the sort of sentence that might cause confusion and drag your reader out of the story you’re writing.
This is a link to the article on the closure of the Apostrophe Protection Society. I would disagree with the article’s conclusion that ‘ignorance has won’, even though the current political climate would suggest that ignorance is a way of life for many voters and their party leaders. Personally, I try to keep on top of apostrophe usage and will happily photograph and tweet offending examples, making sure the responsible companies have a chance to see that their errors have been noted.
But, I know, what I’m doing is a small contribution to a very large problem. Fortunately, there are a couple of pages discussing the need for appropriate punctuation in my forthcoming book: How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published. Perhaps that might help.