There’s one teacher I’ll never forget. An old English teacher – that is an old teacher, (she may have been all of 50 but she seemed old) – not someone who taught Old English, Anglo-Saxon, Beowulf and all that. I did later study Old English and Middle English and Linguistics and it is just possible she influenced my choice of degree subject, but that is another story.
This lady – I’ll call her O’M because she had a name with an apostrophe in it – had a thing about the use of the apostrophe in English. This was in the 50s and 60s you understand, well before Lynne Truss and her best-selling “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”. Miss O’M was adamant that her sixth form would master the correct use of the apostrophe. In fact she decreed that any essay containing a misplaced apostrophe got no marks. She put a * when she encountered this heinous offence and a note to the effect that she had stopped marking at that point. Can you imagine a teacher getting away with such a ploy today!
But it worked. At least for me. I don’t get apostrophes wrong – or very rarely. But I also get this jarring finger-nail-on-blackboard feeling when I come across a misplaced apostrophe. I know in the long run it isn’t all that important. But when you think about it, the correct use of the apostrophe is something that can be explained to and understood by someone of average intelligence in less than fifteen minutes. “Is this worth doing?” I hear you ask. I think so.
Miss O’M has a lot to answer for.