Birmingham drops the possessive apostrophe

'Pedants’ revolt' brewing, Times suggests

Defenders of correct punctuation should look away now, because Birmingham City Council has voted to drop possessive apostrophes from its street signs, in the process risking a "pedants' revolt' as Middle England rises to combat this latest menace to our beloved mother tongue.

According to the Times, the decision came following "tense grammatical debate". Martin Mullaney, chairman of the council’s transportation scrutiny committee, argued that "for some time the apostrophe had been slipping from signs all over the city".

He further insisted that "since the monarchy no longer owned Kings Heath, or Kings Norton, and since the Acock family no longer owned Acocks Green, the punctuation marks that once appeared in those names were now redundant".

He said on his blog: “The consensus of the city council on the future use of possessive apostrophes in place names is that they should not be reintroduced. This view will, I know, upset a lot of residents.”

Indeed, since the council first proposed joining forces with the UK's greengrocers, there has been considerable local opposition to the move. Regarding King's Kings Heath, one local defended the apostrophe on a community website, explaining: “It’s important because it conveys the meaning of the Heath more accurately as belonging to the King - whether this be real or symbolic - in singular possessive terms.”

The Apostrophe Protection Society doesn't much like the idea either. Its founder and chairman, John Richards, decried: “It’s setting a very bad example because teachers all over Birmingham are teaching their children punctuation. Then they see road signs with apostrophes removed.”

However, there is a (sort of) plausible reason for the move. As the Times notes, Oz in 2001 expunged apostrophes from place names "for the sake of consistency in the databases used by the emergency services". Mullaney rested his case with: “It would be tragic if the ambulance couldn’t find your street if you forgot to use the possessive apostrophe.” ®

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