As always, the apostrophe aroused passions when Mid Devon District Council recently made these modest proposals:

New street names shall not end in “s” where it can be construed as either a possessive or plural; neither shall they commence with the word “The”.

All punctuation, including apostrophes, shall be avoided.

The council will review the proposals at the end of March.

Most comment has, predictably, been ill-informed, but there have been balanced contributions from Johnson , John Wells and Geoffrey Pullum, who helpfully reminds us that the apostrophe is not punctuation.

There has been uncertainty about the apostrophe ever since it was introduced into English in the middle of the sixteenth century as a printer’s mark to indicate missing letters. It is curious that every time this topic arises, the harrumphers like to point to any suggestion that the apostrophe might be removed in certain places as a further sign of the deterioration of the language and of the end of civilisation as we know it. They seem to be bothered not at all by the many instances of apostrophic inconsistency that have been with us for years, and in some cases for centuries. The following lists of London Undeground stations, and Oxford and Cambridge Colleges show how arbitrary the choice can be.


With apostrophe

Earl’s Court
King’s Cross
Queen’s Park
Regent’s Park
St James’s Park
St John’s Wood
St Paul’s
Shepherd’s Bush

Without apostrophe

Arnos Grove
Barons Court
Bounds Green
Canons Park
Colliers Wood
Gants Hill
Golders Green
Parsons Green


With apostrophe

Regent’s Park College
St Anne’s College
St Anthony’s College
St Benet’s Hall
St Catherine’s College
St Hilda’s College
St Hugh’s College
St John’s College
St Peter’s College
St Stephen’s House
The Queen’s College

Without apostrophe

All Souls College

Without apostrophe and without genitive ‘s’

Jesus College
Kellogg College
Nuffield College
St Edmund Hall
St Cross College


With apostrophe

Christ’s College
King’s College
Queens’ College (there’s a reason why the apostrophe follows the ‘s’. See here.)
St Catharine’s College
St Edmund’s College
St John’s College

Without apostrophe and without genitive ‘s’

Churchill College
Clare College
Clare Hall
Darwin College
Emmanuel College
Fitzwilliam College
Girton College
Gonville and Caius College
Homerton College
Hughes Hall
Lucy Cavendish College
Murray Edwards College
Robinson College
Selwyn College
Sidney Sussex College
Wolfson College

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