Devon street-namers ban the apostrophe


road sign

The apostrophe is a surprisingly baffling punctuation mark - throwing thousands of schoolchildren and greengrocers into a frenzy of indecision. Now Mid Devon District Council has decided to bring the confusion to an end - and is banning apostrophes in street names.

But why, and is this right?

The ban

According to the BBC, the council said the move was intended to "avoid potential confusion". It hasn't used apostrophes in new street names for a number of years - but was making the position official.

It said in a statement: "Our proposed policy on street naming and numbering covers a whole host of practical issues, many of which are aimed at reducing potential confusion over street names."

It will, however, not be changing the three roads in the district with apostrophes. The residents of Beck's Square and Blundell's Avenue in Tiverton and St George's Well in Collumpton will just have to live with all the attendant potential confusion.


The reaction from locals was one of disappointment. One proofreader told the BBC that it felt as though someone was trying to 'erase punctuation from our consciousness'. The Plain English Campaign said the apostrophe was one of the basic rules of language, and that the move was 'nonsensical.'

In reaction, a spokesman from the council told ITV that no final decision had been made, and that it would be discussed again at the end of the month.

Should it?

There is an argument in favour of giving up on the apostrophe in street names. There's no denying that people struggle with when to include it - or we wouldn't get so many adverts for apple's and sweet's. And while it's a matter for mild annoyance in everyday life, if this is part of an address it could lead to potentially more complex problems.

This isn't the first council to ban the apostrophe from road name signs. Birmingham caused controversy by banning apostrophes in all street signs in 2009. Clearly it is enough of a problem to have reached town halls around the country.

Traditionalists would argue for the preservation of the rules of language, but those traditionalists have clearly never read a text message written by someone under the age of 25, or any Tweets not penned by Stephen Fry.

However, there remains a strong argument that the apostrophe ought to remain. Where an apostrophe makes logical sense it ought to be included - otherwise it is just going to confuse people even more.

Take Bakers View in the district. It has been named without the apostrophe, but given that it offers a view of Baker's Park, the absence of the apostrophe is just confusing.

But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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