The criminal elimination of apostrophes in place names


Writing in the Kings County Register/Advertiser, Ed Coleman puzzles over the correct name for Scott’s Bay,  aka Scots Bay, a 350-year-old community on the Blomidon Peninsula, of which Wikipedia writes, “The debate on how to spell the name of this little seaside village is as old as the community.” Per Coleman:

Historically, Scots Bay must be correct as the name for the community. But to be fair and offer a bit of evidence to the contrary, the official highway map produced by the Department of Highways in 1935 has Scotsman Bay in bold type as the community name. The department’s map for 1944 has Scotsmans Bay displayed boldly as well, and near that in small type is the name “Scott Bay.” Another source, Thomas J. Brown’s book, Nova Scotia Place Names, published in 1922, has the name of the community spelled as Scott’s Bay.

To which Tim Bousquet, writing in the Halifax Examiner, responds:

What is it with Nova Scotians and their apostrophes?

Very few official Nova Scotia place names have apostrophes: Peggy’s Cove, the District of St. Mary’s, and perhaps one or two more. But Nova Scotia is hardly the only place that eschews the useful little mark in matters geographic.

Sometime in the 1920s, an international convention of foolhardy cartographers voted to expunge apostrophes from maps, on grounds they were too easily confused with geographical elements: islands, lakes, fire plugs, etc.

From maps, lawlessness spread to government lists of official names, thence to street signs, and on newspaper stories, and eventually the populace—although many stout souls cling stubbornly to what sensible grammarians know is the rightful place of the possessive mark.

Contrarian lives at Kempt Head, which so far as I know either never had an apostrophe, or shed it long before the map-makers’ murderous conspiracy. Nearby Ross Ferry, however, was indubitably Ross’s Ferry back when Old Man Ross began rowing passengers to and from Big Harbour on the opposite shore of the Great Bras d’Or Channel. Ross’s trade was a yeoman effort, surely deserving of memorialization in the form of a modest apostrophe. Few any longer write the name as Ross’s, but longtime residents still pronounce an extra, apostrophe-inspired syllable: “Rosses.”

Lately, the Anything Goes Linguistic Brigade has been demanding the total elimination of all apostrophes—no more pesky distinctions between “it’s” and “its,” “she’ll” and “shell,” or, tellingly, “he’ll” and “hell.” Time, Slate, and the Poynter Institute have all written about, but stopped short of endorsing, this anarchist campaign. There’s even a Kill-the-Apostrophe website, which good taste prevents me from linking to.

To such apostasy, Contrarian’s response is the same as it has always been to the reckless omission of the serial comma: Resist! Official, bureaucrat-inspired lists be damned! Keep using apostrophes in place names that obviously require them. Consider toting a sharpie for guerrilla sign-correction purposes.