Greengrocers at war

September 3, 2006

Language experts at each others’ throats today in what might be dubbed the war of the commas. David Crystal attacks Lynne Truss for her “zero tolerance” approach to punctuation which, he says, is the language of political extremism and linguistic fundamentalism. Well. I don’t think Ms Truss goes far enough. Apostrophe abuse should be made a criminal offence and CCTV cameras should be installed to trap offenders. The wretched Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, then takes Ms Truss to task for condemning the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’ as in ‘apple’s’ or ‘potato’s’ .’Lurking beneath the surface”, he says, ” there’s an 18th-century “us vs them” attitude here which I find unpalatable.’ My advice to him- go back to Wales, Sir, where, as we all know, people take the most appalling liberties with the English language with complete impunity.Crystal, reports the Observer, admits that he advised Ms Truss not to write about the subject, saying “I wouldn’t bother. Books on punctuation never sell!”‘ Eats, Shoots and Leaves became the surprise Christmas hit of 2004 and sold 3 million copies worldwide. An illustrated children’s version has just been published. I would like any interested publishers to know I am just finishing mine, called ‘Horrible Henry and the split infinitives.’
I gather Mr John Humphrys has also waded in, saying: ‘I think David Crystal is making a fundamental mistake when he says rules don’t matter that much. I say they matter enormously. Take the example we always use on both sides of the debate: the apostrophe. It is either right or wrong. We wouldn’t accept something being wrong in any other walk of life, would we?’ No? I wonder what world Mr Humphrys lives in then.
Here’s something that’s wrong, no two way’s about it, as the greengrocers say. Tony Blair telling MPs to stop “obsessing” about his departure. As any self-respecting dictionary (or greengrocer) will tell you this use of ‘obsess’ without an object is confined to North America.. Blair not only thinks like one, he talks like one, too.


4 Responses to “Greengrocers at war”

  1. Peter Harvey Says:

    I have come to this from Tony Hatfield’s blog and have in effect replied on my own (
    I have not managed to find how to leave a trackback on your blog.

  2. tomeemayeepa Says:

    Sorry, ‘trackback’ has not entered my personal dictionary yet (I’m still on ‘B for Blog’). I’m not a linguist, professional or otherwise, but your piece strikes me as very sensible.

  3. tomeemayeepa Says:

    Many thanks, seems like there are a few more words for me to learn,too.

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