This article was originally published in the 2011-2012 academic year.
Pet peeves – we all have them, in some shape or form. Whether it’s something small, something large, or something obscure, they are the things that nag away at us, filling our minds with a deep sense of annoyance and frustration. Sometimes we can handle them, able to repress the growing sensation of rage within us when confronted with our own personal pet peeve, but other times we can’t. There’s a fine line between tolerance and total breakdown, and often it’s the small things that can tip us over the edge.
Okay, perhaps I’m being a bit overdramatic. Unless you’re some sort of psychotic maniac, you can probably muster the strength to bite your tongue and put up with whatever it is that’s annoying you. But on occasions you can’t help but wish you could just let rip. This feeling is one that I have become increasingly familiar with as of late, prompted by recently re-reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss (a book so good it deserves more than one read). For those not in the know, this is a book all about people’s use of punctuation – or lack thereof – and it has since dawned on me that I too, like Truss before me, am a stickler for punctuation. So when someone (knowingly or not) gets it wrong, I want to flip. To put it in the words of Peter Griffin – it really grinds my gears.
As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’ve always been one for adhering to the rules, but I don’t think I can say I’ve ever been quite as obsessive over anything as language, and perhaps that’s understandable as someone who is studying Linguistics. Every time I see a grammatical error on a poster, on a sign, on a Facebook status, or on anything else that somebody has written, I desperately have to resist the urge to rant about it. True story – I went to a restaurant over the summer and spent more time picking out the sloppy use of punctuation on the menu (seriously, they were doing things with commas that I didn’t even think were conceivable to the human mind) than I did on deciding what I wanted to eat. More and more, I’m noticing such occurrences all around me and without fail they always cause me to feel a burning desire to find out who was responsible for such a crime against English and give them a good talking to (or perhaps just write them an angry letter). In short, I weep for the state of punctuation usage today.
Now, am I being a tad extreme? In all likelihood, yes, I am. But the point remains (or maybe it doesn’t… ba-dum-tish!). Punctuation is there for a reason, though it seems people’s blatant disregard for it in this day and age indicates it has lost some of its relevance. The apostrophe in particular is suffering a lot in our modern world, as far as I can see. When it’s not being left out entirely (a crime that even our very own SU bar menu has committed – don’t believe me? Look at the second word under ‘The Hot Stuff’ section), it’s either being used haphazardly (for instance, to unnecessarily mark plurals as in “banana’s” and before regular verb inflections like “say’s”) or it’s left in the unpredictable hands of people who know that a word requires an apostrophe but aren’t quite sure where, and so they just stick it wherever they like. It pains me to see the apostrophe abused in such a way as it has plenty of significance for our language and is so simple to use, but at this rate it looks like we’ll reach a point where the apostrophe has faded out of existence entirely due to no one knowing how to use it properly. Either that or it’ll just be seen as a random floating comma that people throw around willy-nilly to make their text look more decorative. I shudder at the thought.
By this point you probably think I’m insane, but I’ll have you know that an Apostrophe Protection Society actually exists, and they’re forever hearing about the general public’s lack of appreciation for the punctuation mark – so I’m not the only one fighting for this cause. And naturally, this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to language-related crises. There are plenty of others out there that would make a grammarian’s blood boil (don’t even get me started on the likes of “should of” – it’s “should have”, damn it!), but for now all I can ask is that you heed my cry and do what you can to keep maltreated punctuation like the apostrophe afloat, soaring high and serving its rightful purpose, and not let it sink like the Titanic into the murky depths where many a lost and forgotten punctuation mark silently sleeps.