A group of self-confessed ‘punctuation pedants’ have won in a year-long campaign to get the apostrophe on their street sign restored after the local council swapped it with one which was grammatically incorrect.
Village residents were left outraged when they discovered the punctuation mark was missing from the new road furniture of St Mary’s Terrace in upmarket Twyford, Hampshire.
When it was raised with Winchester City Council, locals were astonished to find out that the apostrophe had been deliberately left off as part of a local authority policy to make signs easier to read.
‘Clear and unambiguous street and place names are vital for postal and other delivery services and also for the emergency services – and punctuation can make that more difficult,’ the council leader told a meeting.
However, following the hearing – at which local author Jane Austen’s inconsistent use of the punctuation mark was cited – the authority has relented, admitting that the situation in the village was ‘confusing’.
Sharp-eyed residents of St Mary’s Terrace noticed the missing apostrophe when the new sign was put up
And after city councillor Sue Cook discovered that the original sign was still in the council dump, it has now been renovated and reinstalled – with the apostrophe in tact.
The punctuation row began in November 2022 when the new road sign provoked discontent among residents of the historic country village, where the average house price is almost £600,000.
Sharp-eyed local Oliver Gray complained at the time: ‘New road signs are going up… and some residents of St Mary’s Terrace have been discussing the missing apostrophe.
‘There definitely should be one there, firstly for reasons of correctness and secondly because that is the street’s name, according to both the Land Registry and the Ordnance Survey.’
Mr Gray was baffled to learn that Winchester Council had adopted a ‘no apostrophe’ policy for signs, describing the decision as ‘bonkers’.
In February, Councillor Tony Bronk – who represents the village – asked for an explanation at a council meeting.
‘Residents of St Mary’s Terrace in Twyford were surprised and disappointed to find that when their street name plate was replaced last year it was missing an apostrophe,’ he said.
‘When this assumed error was questioned, the answer given was that the Council’s policy required that all new street name signs must omit any apostrophe formerly shown on such signage.
Oliver Gray with the restored sign on St Mary’s Terrace in Twyford near Winchester, Hants
‘I would appreciate a statement by or on behalf of the Leader to clearly articulate the council (or council’s) position on the use of apostrophes on road signs in the Winchester District, including the reason for any omission of apostrophes and when and by whom (or which body) this decision was taken.’
Cllr Martin Tod, council leader, replied: ‘I’m aware that this is a topic where emotions can run surprisingly high – and where having a clear policy will be helpful in managing this.
‘Clear and unambiguous street and place names are vital for postal and other delivery services and also for the emergency services – and punctuation can make that more difficult, particularly with modern computer systems.
‘Our default approach is to make signs that use the spelling recorded in the systems used by the emergency services: the National Land and Property Gazetteer.’
He said that following guidance from the Ordnance Survey and the Local Government Association new street names did not include punctuation.
‘Personally… I believe we should avoid new road or place names having any punctuation at all and avoid new names where the lack of punctuation could cause confusion.
‘This would not mean that the council would want to scrap all punctuation in existing street names and places.
‘The apostrophe was invented several hundred years after the Mayoralty took responsibility for recording the streets of Winchester and, in common with our most famous local writer, Jane Austen, the Mayor, Corporation and Council have not always used them very consistently.
‘However it’s not a prudent use of resources to revisit our predecessors’ decisions, except in the most unusual cases.’
Cllr Tod cited nearby Kings Worthy and Bishop’s Waltham as examples of historic place names that he did not want the council to revisit.
He said: ‘St Mary’s Terrace in Twyford is a difficult case – since Ordnance Survey have it listed as St Mary’s Terrace – and Royal Mail and the Land and Property Gazetteer (and hence the emergency services) have St Marys Terrace.
‘The next door primary school also has an apostrophe – adding to the confusion.’
Cllr Tod agreed that the new sign was ‘confusing’ and ‘not in line with residents’ wishes’.
Following his decision to reinstate the old sign, Cllr Cook, rescued the original sign, which was then restored.
Residents of the street repainted it, leaving the apostrophe for Mr Gray to paint black after it was remounted.
Speaking after this week’s victory, Cllr Cook said: ‘The apostrophe has gone back in, as it rightly should.
‘It was a tad frustrating to have the sign come back incorrect, especially when it’s grammar and there’s a school down the road – it had to be right.
Mr Gray, a self professed ‘punctuation pedant’, initially realised the error as he lives nearby
‘It was a talking point in the village, let’s just say that.’
Mr Gray, a self professed ‘punctuation pedant’, initially realised the error as he lives nearby to the street.
‘They left me the apostrophe as I was the one who spotted it in the first place,’ the 75 year old said.
‘The sign is actually quite pretty, a lot nicer than the other one they put in.’
Speaking about the council’s justification for returning the apostrophe-free sign, he added: ‘That is so bonkers.
‘Driving down the road an ambulance isn’t going to say ‘oh look, there’s a an apostrophe’.
‘I think there’s a national thing where we’re trying not to bother with apostrophes, driven by text speech and spell check.’
Mr Gray, a former language teacher, added: ‘As an ex-teacher, I’m very, very interested in grammar and apostrophes in particular.
‘But a surprisingly large number of people get irate about misusing of apostrophes.
‘Some people have been moaning that there shouldn’t be a full stop after the ‘Saint’, but I’m not getting involved in that – it’s too controversial.’
Source: | This article originally belongs to Daily Mail