A missing apostrophe from the city’s most famous thoroughfare has sparked a radical bid by the punctuation police to reinstate the humble symbol into our “ignorant and lazy” street signs.
Princes Street – the Capital’s flagship boulevard – saw its possessive apostrophe dropped in the 1830s, rendering it grammatically inaccurate.
Now we can reveal grammar campaigners have sent letters to the City Chambers demanding politicians restore the apostrophe and return the name of the street to Prince’s Street.
The “daily abuse” of good grammar the spelling of Princes Street flags up has won support from the Apostrophe Protection Society – a national body set up to safeguard the speech mark – who have branded the misleading street moniker “lazy, ignorant and appalling”.
The Edinburgh reversal bid by online grammar campaigner the Apostrophe Vigilante comes a week after members of Telford and Wrekin Council were persuaded to return the apostrophe to Princes Street in Wellington, Shropshire. The micro- blogger said: “The apostrophe is abused on a daily basis, but Edinburgh Council can provide it with a welcome shot in the arm by reinstating it [to Prince’s Street)]”
John Richards, of the Apostrophe Protection Society, has backed the lobbying drive, saying he would “support anything to boost the correct use of apostrophes”.
He said: “Princes Street alone implies nothing. Prince’s Street suggests a connection with one prince. If the local authority wants to imply that it has a connection to several princes, then call it Princes’ Street. If a local authority feels it is essential to omit apostrophes, then call it Prince Street, but never Princes Street without an apostrophe.”
Steven Jenner, of the Plain English Campaign, said he fears – because Princes Street is now accepted worldwide – an insertion is unlikely in the future.
He added: “You have schools drilling correct punctuation into pupils and teaching the rules of grammar – then local authorities selectively ignore this whenever it’s inconvenient. If you want to help tourists and so forth understand the heritage of a place then really those apostrophes need to be reinstated. Generally speaking, I would say bang these back in.”
Edinburgh World Heritage was unable to comment on the change – which could cost millions to implement if it ever were to be made.
“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.”
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.”
The street name is thought to have changed during a Victorian simplification drive that also saw St Andrew’s Square shortened to St Andrew Square.
‘LANGUAGE DOES NOT STAY STATIC’
Professor Linda Dryden, subject group leader of English Literature at Edinburgh Napier University, explains the language’s most misunderstood punctuation mark . . .
“You use apostrophes for an abbreviation of two words into one, as an indication some letters are being omitted, or to indicates possession, which is important because it impacts on the meaning of the sentence.
“So when you see the word ‘CD’s’ written in shops that is wrong because it should just be a plural – it’s a case of accuracy and clarification. In publishing you would expect to see the apostrophe used but language does not stay static. I think people tend to accept a lack of apostrophes when you are talking about place names and street names because they have entered into the vernacular for the population.”