Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The decline of the apostrophe: 6 Minute English

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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 incorrectlyparticularly


Rob: Well, it depends. Usually Im pretty

chilled out about it, but sometimes, just

sometimes it really winds me upfor

exampleif I see a sign for taxis at a

train station and it says taxiapostrophe - saargh!

Whywhy? The apostrophe is not used

to show there is more than oneits used

to show there is a missing letter or that

the word is a possessiveits just wrong!

So that does kind of make my blood boil.

Georgina: So when you say youre pretty

chilled about it you mean

Rob: …OK, Im not chilled at all. But maybe

I wish I was.

Georgina: Well, were going to be taking a

look at reactions to the use and abuse of

apostrophes in this programme, but first,

a question.

The wordapostropheitselfwhich

language does it come from? Is it:

A: Latin, B: Greek, or C: Arabic

What do you think, Rob?

Rob: I dont think its Arabic, so its a

toss-up between Latin and Greek. Im

going to say Greek.

Georgina: OK. Well see if youre correct at

the end of the programme. The

apostrophe, it is true to say, is often

misused. Its put where it shouldnt be and

not used where it should be. Is it

important, though? Does it matter? After

all, in spoken English there is no

difference betweenitswith

an apostrophe anditswithout. ‘Your

andyoure’ – short foryou are

sound the same. So whats the problem in

written English?

Rob: In many cases there isnt a problem

at all. There would be very little confusion.

But, I dont think that means we should

just ignore the correct way to use them.

Sometimes it can be very important to

make clear if its 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

good opportunity.

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 communicationsa tactic

that has not always been welcome or

successful. But like the apostrophe itself

the group is in danger. Heres 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 Societyyes there really is

onesays 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, its 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 arent bothered

about using correct punctuation.

John Edwards: I think its a mixture of

ignorance and laziness. Theyre too

ignorant to know where it goes, theyre

too lazy to learn so they just dont bother.

The barbarians have won.

Georgina: So whats his reason?

Rob: He blames ignorance and laziness.

Ignorance is a lack of knowledge or

understanding of something. So people

dont 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 werent part of so-called civilized

society. They were seen as violent and

aggressive, primitive and uncivilized.

Georgina: So its not a compliment then?

Rob: Oh no!

Georgina: Right, before we review todays

vocabulary, lets have the answer to

todays 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 lets remind

ourselves of todays vocabulary. First,

whats a 'pedant', Rob?

Rob: A 'pedant' is someone who corrects

other peoples small mistakes

particularly in grammar and punctuation

but its not the same

as an English teacher! A pedant will

correct native speakersmistakes 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

somewhere quickly.

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 cant 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.

Rob: Bye!

The Description of The decline of the apostrophe: 6 Minute English