Georgina: Hello. This is 6 Minute English, I'm Georgina.
Rob: And I'm Rob.
Georgina: Are you a punctuation pedant?
Do you get upset,
annoyed or angry if you see punctuation
being used incorrectly – particularly
Rob: Well, it depends. Usually I’m pretty
chilled out about it, but sometimes, just
sometimes it really winds me up – for
example – if I see a sign for taxis at a
train station and it says taxi – apostrophe - s – aargh!
Why – why? The apostrophe is not used
to show there is more than one – it’s used
to show there is a missing letter or that
the word is a possessive – it’s just wrong!
So that does kind of make my blood boil.
Georgina: So when you say you’re pretty
chilled about it you mean …
Rob: …OK, I’m not chilled at all. But maybe
I wish I was.
Georgina: Well, we’re going to be taking a
look at reactions to the use and abuse of
apostrophes in this programme, but first,
The word ‘apostrophe’ itself – which
language does it come from? Is it:
A: Latin, B: Greek, or C: Arabic
What do you think, Rob?
Rob: I don’t think it’s Arabic, so it’s a
toss-up between Latin and Greek. I’m
going to say Greek.
Georgina: OK. We’ll see if you’re correct at
the end of the programme. The
apostrophe, it is true to say, is often
misused. It’s put where it shouldn’t be and
not used where it should be. Is it
important, though? Does it matter? After
all, in spoken English there is no
difference between ‘it’s’ with
an apostrophe and ‘its’ without. ‘Your’
and ‘you’re’ – short for ‘you are’
sound the same. So what’s the problem in
Rob: In many cases there isn’t a problem
at all. There would be very little confusion.
But, I don’t think that means we should
just ignore the correct way to use them.
Sometimes it can be very important to
make clear if it’s a singular or plural or
possessive. Another important thing to
remember is that in CVs and job
applications a good standard
of spelling and punctuation is expected.
Get it wrong and you could miss out on a
Georgina: There is one group that has
tried for nearly 20 years to keep others to
these high standards - The Apostrophe
Protection Society. They have publicly
pointed out incorrect use in public signs
and communications – a tactic
that has not always been welcome or
successful. But like the apostrophe itself
the group is in danger. Here’s a BBC news
report on the subject.
Duncan Kennedy: They linger above our letters,
they wander around the endings of our
words, but apostrophes it seems are an
endangered species. The Apostrophe
Protection Society – yes there really is
one – says their future is, well, up in the air.
Georgina: How does he describe
Rob: Using metaphorical, poetic language.
He says they linger above our letters. To
linger is a verb usually used to describe
someone or something staying somewhere
before finally leaving.
Georgina: So we have apostrophes
lingering above our letters and also he
said they wander around the end of the words.
Rob: Yes, also a metaphorical use. To
wander means to walk slowly around
without any real purpose or urgency.
Georgina: And he went
on to say that the future of the
apostrophe is up in the air. When
something is up in the air, it
means its future is not certain, it’s not
guaranteed. So if, for example, your
holiday plans are up in the air, it means that
there is some kind of problem and you might not
be going on holiday after all. The person
who founded The Apostrophe Protection
Society is John Edwards. Now 96 years
old, he has decided to give it up. Partly
because of his age, but also because he
thinks that due to the impact of texting
and social media he has lost the battle
against bad punctuation. So why has it
come to this? Here he is explaining
why he thinks people aren’t bothered
about using correct punctuation.
John Edwards: I think it’s a mixture of
ignorance and laziness. They’re too
ignorant to know where it goes, they’re
too lazy to learn so they just don’t bother.
The barbarians have won.
Georgina: So what’s his reason?
Rob: He blames ignorance and laziness.
Ignorance is a lack of knowledge or
understanding of something. So people
don’t know the rules and are too lazy to
learn them, according to Edwards.
Georgina: Quite strong views there!
Rob: Yes, and you thought I was a pedant!
He actually goes further to say that the
barbarians have won. Barbarian is a
historical word for people
who weren’t part of so-called civilized
society. They were seen as violent and
aggressive, primitive and uncivilized.
Georgina: So it’s not a compliment then?
Rob: Oh no!
Georgina: Right, before we review today’s
vocabulary, let’s have the answer to
today’s quiz. Which language does the
word 'apostrophe' come from? What did you say?
Rob: I went for Greek
Georgina: Congratulations to you and
anyone else who got that right. Greek is
the right answer. Now let’s remind
ourselves of today’s vocabulary. First,
what’s a 'pedant', Rob?
Rob: A 'pedant' is someone who corrects
other people’s small mistakes –
particularly in grammar and punctuation
– but it’s not the same
as an English teacher! A pedant will
correct native speakers’ mistakes too and
not in the classroom.
Georgina: 'To linger' means to stay
somewhere for longer
Rob: 'To wander' is to walk around without
a real purpose or intention to get
Georgina: If your plans are 'up in the air', it
means they are at risk and might not
Rob: 'Ignorance' is the state of not
knowing something that should be known
Georgina: And finally a 'barbarian' is a
word for a primitive and uncivilized
person. Right, we can’t linger in this studio
as our six minutes are up. You can find
more from us about punctuation
and many other aspects of English online,
on social media and on the BBC Learning
English app. Bye for now.