Princes Street apostrophe is not an issue
Something a little light-hearted to end the month on, and an apostrophe story I think should be forgotten.
Normally, I’m fussy about the use of apostrophes, such is the general abuse this little mark receives on a daily basis, if it is remembered at all, such is the general ignorance of its purpose and use.
If it’s not being forgotten or ignored, then it’s being plastered all over the place by folk who just don’t have a clue, and stick one in just to be on the safe side, or omit it… for the same reason. This leads to signs advertising such things as “Blind’s for sale” or “New potato’s”, and things such as “Jims Bar” or Bills Fruit & Veg”. And those examples might give you a clue as to why one particular misuse came to be knows as the greengrocer’s apostrophe
Things are so bad, there’s even a society to preserve the poor little mite: The Apostrophe Protection Society
But they can go overboard, and I think the point has been stretched just past breaking point in the case of Edinburgh’s Princes Street.
Normally, I’d be behind any campaign where apostrophe abuse had been identified and needed to be rectified, but in this case, I look to historical and established use for guidance. There are mitigating factors for such things as missing apostrophes.
The first that comes to mind is, unfortunately, inconsistent, and lies with the way councils deal with street names which involve apostrophes. Some have a rule that apostrophes are included in their signs, but other do not, and will omit it, even if the street name otherwise uses the apostrophe when being referred to. But this is all local, and there is no national guideline.
Next (and the guide I follow for any articles I write), is OS mapping. If I come across a street name which features an ‘s’ that I would use an apostrophe for, I’ll look at the current OS map to see how it is depicted there. If there is no apostrophe, I’ll look further back and check the late 19th and early 20th century mapping to see if this omission is consistent with past use. If I don’t find an apostrophe, I won’t add it.
It’s not just street names, place names can present the same problem – Barons Point lies on the southwest corner of the Rosneath peninsula, and when I got the nudge to do an article on the test range located there, I thought the writer had missed the apostrophe. Not so. When I started digging up both the new and the old maps, none of those I looked at had an apostrophe – so out page does nor show one either: Secret Scotland – Barons Point
As for Princes Street – I rather hope we don’t see (and I am only showing the options, not making a case for either)…
It looks as if the chances of seeing any variations are probably slim to nil anyway, as the council has made a fairly robust case for the current, apostrophe-less appearance:
Councillor Lesley Hinds, transport and environment convener, has poured cold water on the campaign.
She said: “The modern spelling of Princes Street has been in place since the early 1800s and while it may not be entirely grammatically accurate, it has become universally recognised and – of course with a few exceptions – generally accepted. We may never know why the original apostrophe was dropped all those years ago but to change it now would be confusing, costly and flies in the face of common sense.”
That said, a somewhat sillier response appears to have been made from an unidentified source:
“One council source said: “Think of the cost of reprinting everything that would have the old spelling on – it’s just not do-able. Maps, stationery, businesses – everything would have to change.”
The person who made that last statement should be volunteering for redundancy, and given taxi fare to the big house with jackets that have no holes at the ends of the sleeves.
Suggesting a cost of “millions” to add the apostrophe, if it was to be added, is sheer lunacy. Why would anything need to be reprinted?
Maps are digitally managed now, so the cost is minimal and would be done as a data update prior to the next print run.
Street signs could be changed, but it would make more sense to alter them in the normal course of renewal or maintenance. Again, that would largely be paid for within budget.
Same goes for stationary and other printed sources. There would be no need to scrap anything (the name has hardly changed), and again, changes could be made at the next print run, so once again, only a minimal cost, if any. Our business was never charged “extra” of we needed small amendments prior to any print runs. And an apostrophe is a pretty small amendment.