Linguistic doommongers look away now: A survey has shown that almost half of Brits haven't got a clue how to use the possessive apostrophe correctly, with the most common lapse being the inability to "punctuate a possessive plural".
That's according to the Telegraph, which cites an independent poll of nearly 2,000 carried out by voice-to-text outfit SpinVox in which 46 per cent of those tested reckoned "people's choice" was wrong "in the context set".
Londoners came out top as "best regional" users of the apostrophe, with a 78 per cent hit rate. Rather agreeably, the 55+ age range came bottom of the class nationwide, while 25 to 34-year-olds managed to match the capital with 78 per cent of correct answers - surprising, the Telegraph notes, since the latter have not had the benefit of the "proper" old-school grammar guidance enjoyed by the former.
The poll also posed that most provocative of linguistic questions: Which common error provokes the most irritation among purists? The answer: Replacement of "they're" with "their", followed by use of "boy's instead of "boys". Third spot was awarded to confusion between "its" and "it's", something which has in the past irritated certain Reg readers.
Professor Christopher Mulvey, of the Museum of the English Language at Winchester University, lamented: "The problems people have with apostrophes arise from the hopeless state of English punctuation and spelling. The situation is so confusing that people panic and hypercorrect. To get it right, you need to look up the rules every time you think an apostrophe might be needed - and do this for the next six months in order to 'internalise' the rules."
Of course, the solution to this state of linguistic anarchy is to scrub the apostrophe altogether and "free up" English spelling. Regular readers will recall that John Wells, Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at University College London, earlier this year suggested just that, and asked: "Instead of an apostrophe, we could just leave it out (it's could become its) or leave a space (so we'll would become we ll). Have we really nothing better to do with our lives than fret about the apostrophe?"
For his trouble, the good prof copped a right shoeing, so it appears we really don't have anything better to do than fret about our beloved apostrophe. ®