While most of us are aware of the good work done by the
Dunedin-based National Poisons Centre, another Dunedin
service carries out its vital function almost anonymously.
It's the National Apostrophe Centre (NAC) which is housed in
the English department at the University of Otago.
Its important work is summarised in the annual report to the
Minister of Cultural Affairs and it makes interesting
Below is this year's report.
National Apostrophe Centre Annual Report, 2012
Introduction: It is nine years since Ms Truss wrote
the excellent and popular plea for correct punctuation (Eats,
Shoots and Leaves). Sadly, its influence is waning. Far too
many New Zealanders continue to mis-use the apostrophe and in
the 12 months under review the Centre has had to deal with
4567 ''apostrophe events'' - a disturbing 14% increase since
our last report, but fortunately, with no fatalities.
1. Greengrocers' Division. This division is fully
stretched. Dangerous practices have become almost universal
in the grocery world and supermarkets are now as guilty of
transgressions as the much-maligned corner store. Our
inspectors are almost persuaded that ''tomato's'' and
''potatoe's'' should be taken off the proscribed list and
admitted as correct practice. The decision on that matter, of
course, rests with the minister. ''Vegie's'' continues to be
the most common contribution to punctuation pollution.
2. Menu Division. The proliferation of small
restaurants has resulted in a 50% rise in the workload for
this division and staffing levels will have to be adjusted
accordingly. The seriousness of the problem in this area is
illustrated by the fact that 8 out of 10 restaurants believe
that ''menu's'' is the correct plural form for the bill of
fare. Within the menus themselves, apostrophes are scattered
like confetti and it is almost impossible for our inspectors
to grant approval to more than two or three percent of the
samples checked. (The Senior Inspector Apostrophes (Menus)
has suggested an entirely new department be formed to deal
with the general desecration of the English language
perpetrated by the writers of menus).
3. Sign-writing Division. The heavy workload continues
and staff are having to take stress leave. They are
constantly being bombarded with the word ''signage'' from
people within the sign-writing industry. As well,
increasingly efficient technology is making it much easier to
reproduce the most offensive sign-writing practices. For
every apostrophe outbreak which is brought under control we
notice a dozen new abuses. The new department recommended in
the previous section would also work to stamp out
sign-writing abominations like ''thru'', ''nite'' and the use
of ''on'' in phrases like ''Motel On High''.
4. Legislation. The paper prepared by the Crown Law
Office has proposed that, as the apostrophe is so little
understood, legislation be introduced to outlaw it
altogether, or at least have apostrophes stored in locked
cabinets and available only to those with a certificate of
proficiency in apostrophe use. The sad fact is that the
apostrophe has already disappeared in many public places,
''Ladies toilets'' and ''Childrens playground'' being common
examples. Speight's and Gregg's are to be commended for
voluntarily retaining their apostrophe when many other firms
like the original Farmers' Trading Company have consigned
their apostrophe to oblivion. Inserting an apostrophe for
decades (1920's and so on) has become almost universal.
Abuses are too widespread to be dealt with by legislation. We
prefer an education programme
5. The Apostrophe Education programme would entail the
development of a child-friendly cartoon character called
Curly, shaped a little like an apostrophe with large head and
a slim body, who would have songs and stories to tell the
children about his adventures as an apostrophe.
''Being left out'' and ''Being where I don't want to be''
would be the themes of his message. Curly would tour the
country visiting schools and greengrocers. Rappers would be
commissioned to produce a hit with the apostrophe message.
6. Prosecution. Although we prefer public education to
taking offenders to court there have been several serious
cases during the year which have resulted in heavy fines.
One prosecution, taken against a printing firm in Wellington,
was the result of the discovery of hundreds of apostrophes
stored insecurely in an old golden treacle tin. The potential
for damage was horrendous.
7. Staffing. The numerous breakdowns in health
suffered this year have been mentioned. A number of our best
workers have taken to drink. From now on the intention is to
recruit only experienced subeditors from the newspaper
industry. Not only do they know apostrophe use intimately but
many have already taken to drink without their performance
being adversely affected. I trust this report meets with the
Your's sincer ... oops,
National Apostrophe Centre.