Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bad punctuation: The slippery slope to bedlam

There’s a disturbing trend that I see now and then, and to be honest it’s making me nervous. Apparently there is a movement dedicated to eradicating certain punctuation marks forever.

The first time I heard this was when I read an article from The Telegraph. Yes, the newspaper in England. You know … the very country that is supposed to be the final word on all good grammar and etiquette, like which monstrosity of a hat to wear to a royal wedding.

The article’s title was “Apostrophes abolished by council.” Apparently, the Birmingham City Council decided to ban apostrophes because the staff members spent too much time dealing with complaints about grammar.

Blimey, Brits! What fore art thou thinking?

So let me get this straight … Because some folks have complained that your signs throughout town are grammatically incorrect, you’ve decided to get rid of the apostrophe across the board? You didn’t know if it should be St. Paul’s Square or St. Pauls’ Square, so now it’s just St Pauls Square?

As someone who is paid to make sure that apostrophes are placed correctly in everything I produce for my employer, I’m astonished that you have overlooked the job security aspect here. As long as there are people who don’t understand grammar and punctuation (I’m looking at you Birmingham City Council) I have a job. Brilliant!

But wait! John Richards, the founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society (I’m totally serious here, and yes, I’m looking into a membership), chimed in: “This is setting a terrible example. It seems retrograde, dumbing down really. All over Birmingham, and in other cities, teachers are trying to teach children correct grammar and punctuation. Now children will go around Birmingham and see utter chaos.”

Preach it John!

Seriously, if we get rid of the apostrophe, what’s next? Who needs speed limits? It’s too hard to manage it, so let’s let everyone drive whatever speed they like. Heck, let’s throw away the legal driving age altogether…it’s just too much of a bother, what with all that pesky math needed to figure out how old you are.

Yes, I think bedlam is an accurate assessment of where this primrose path will lead.
But before I blame this entirely on the Brits, I have to point out a glaring example right here in our backyard. The other day I drove past a sign hanging from the side of our local Sears store. It read:

we beat
all competitors
tire prices

Okay, first let me point out the obvious total disregard for capitalization. But I can overlook that. Maybe this employee was a huge fan of e.e. cummings and was making this banner in homage to the great poet known for his disregard for capitalization and punctuation.

And I’m not even bothered that the sentence has no end punctuation. Okay, so I’m not OVERLY bothered.

But the total lack of apostrophe after the “s” in “competitors” made me want to scream loudly enough for them to hear me in Birmingham, England.

Without the apostrophe what do we have? Bedlam.

If it’s incorrectly positioned before the “s” as in “We beat our competitor’s tire prices” that would mean they only have one competitor.

But since they have multiple competitors the apostrophe goes after the “s” as in “We beat our competitors’ tire prices.”

Now without an apostrophe at all, it looks like they’re a bunch of thugs who literally attack their competitors, as my friend Kasia so astutely pointed out.
Bottom line: The whole sign is a mess. And the meaning is, at best, confusing.
Are there worse problems in the world? Yes.

Are there bigger fish to fry? Absolutely.

But we each have our battles to fight, and for whatever reason, I’ve chosen to take on bad grammar and punctuation.

So I say to you, Birmingham City Council and your ilk, bring it on. You may try to terrorize us with your total disregard for grammar and punctuation, but as long as I have breath and a big red marker you’ll not prevail. (Please note the apostrophe in “you’ll.” See how it’s done?)

eileen burmeister lives, works and carries a big, red marker in roseburg. she can be reached at (See? Bedlam.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Runaway imagination heads up mountain instead of molehill

As long as I can remember, I’ve been the proud owner of an overactive imagination. While at first blush this seems like it would be a blessing, it can also be a curse.

Don’t get me wrong: I love that my imagination has served me well over the years as a writer, but its dark side comes out every now and then with bewildering results.

You’ve heard the saying “Making a mountain out of a molehill?” Well the same is true for me when it comes to health issues … a cough can turn into an untreatable case of tuberculosis in my mind in no time at all.

This brings me to last Wednesday. I started the day thinking to myself, “Look, I got a mosquito bite last night. Wow it’s itchy.” But sadly, that is not where that thought ended.

Wednesday 7 a.m.: Woke up to an itchy forearm and a red swollen dot. Ah, yes … sat out well into the evening with the family on the patio last night. Note to self: Must put some sort of ointment on it to make the itching go away.

Wednesday Noon: Wow, this thing is really itchy and … if I’m not mistaken … yes, I have two of them. Hmmm…I don’t believe mosquito bites spread nor duplicate, so it must be something else. But what?

Thursday 2 a.m.: Thanks to Google Images, I am afraid to fall asleep. I conducted an in-depth investigative search for the last two hours on scabies, flea bites and ticks. The pictures were horrifying, especially the magnified photos of these actual bugs that invade the skin, sometimes completely moving in not unlike a freeloading relative or similar. Our cat Sabrina, who was sleeping soundly next to me, was swiftly ejected from the bed and room altogether as I’m sure this is all her doing and she’s using us as her “host family” for all kinds of invisible bugs. Sure, she’s cute, but I’ve seen the bugs that are capable of living on her and they are most decidedly NOT. Note to self: Must wash sheets in extremely hot water first thing tomorrow.

Friday 7 a.m.: Gaaaaaa! Dots have spread all over my forearm and are bubbling up and oozing. This is a first. I’ve never had that happen before with a mosquito bite. So in Hugh-Laurie-as-Dr. House fashion I am crossing that off my list of “possible diagnoses.”

This brings us to scabies. I believe that is what sailors used to get on ships, right? Because they didn’t eat enough vegetables or some such. Or is that scurvy? Either way, I haven’t been on the open seas anytime lately, so that one’s off the list as well.

Friday 5 p.m.: Complained to my husband that the itching was becoming unbearable. “What IS IT?” I yelled across the table at him as I thrust my arm under his nose.

He thought for a few moments then said, “I heard they’ve seen quite a resurgence of E-bola virus at Mercy lately. Maybe it’s that.”

“SERIOUSLY?” I asked, wide-eyed.

“No,” he said, grinning.

He can be quite unsupportive sometimes.

Sunday Noon: Had lunch with another couple after church. He’s an OB/GYN so when he sat down to join us I thrust my arm across the table and said, “What is this, scabies?” He shook his head no. “Flea bites?” “No,” he said. “They don’t’ usually swell up like that. I think it’s poison oak.”

Oh my. Anything with “poison” in the title can’t be good, right? Let me think: I had been weeding just days earlier. And we had gone on a hike up Table Rock Mountain last weekend. This guy may know his stuff after all, I thought. (Note to self: Must hire gardener and lawn service as I am clearly developing a severe reaction to poison oak.)

My husband leaned over to me and whispered, “Here comes the waitress to take our order. Maybe you can show HER your arm and see what she thinks.”

It’s official: My husband’s mocking me.

Monday Noon. In showing my arm to co-workers at work (I can be quite persistent) one savior of a woman said, “Yes, that’s poison oak and I have the stuff you need at my desk. Come by.”

Let’s just say, I am a huge fan of Cal-Dry and a certain co-worker (you know who you are) and am now itch-free.

But just knowing it could have been worse makes me nervous and unsettled. I can’t help it.

If I could just use this nervous energy toward good I could light a whole city. Or write a few novels. Or make a mountain out of a mole hill. I just never know which way it’ll go.

Speaking of mole hills, I’ve had this really weird-looking mole on my leg…

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and obsesses over skin eruptions in Roseburg. She can be reached at

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