I had a phone call yesterday from a BBC local radio station, wanting me to comment on the shock-horror news that Camden Council had erected a sign saying “Coroners Court”, with no apostrophe.
I wasn’t terribly keen to accept the invitation. Local radio interviews are time-consuming, have a small audience, and are unpaid. Nevertheless I chatted for a short while with the production assistant. In our conversation I took my usual line (blogs, 17 May 2011 and 3-6 Oct 2008), saying I didn’t really think that missing apostrophes were a matter worth getting hot under the collar about, and that in this case there was anyhow some question about whether it needed an apostrophe, and — if it did — whether it should go before or after the s. It would really be better if we abolished all possessive apostrophes.
The production assistant was dismayed at my reaction. She had me down as a stickler for orthographic accuracy, a defender of supposedly fixed rules. She was hoping that I would forthrightly condemn the Council’s illiteracy. When she realized that I wasn’t going to do so, she brought the conversation to a close and said they would look for someone else to comment on the matter.
That was fine with me. It does, though, demonstrate the point that radio producers often have an agenda. If you’re not going to go along with that agenda, they may not want to interview you after all.
The case of Coroner’s/Coroners’/Coroners Court is not unambiguously clear-cut. We do indeed normally write Coroner’s Court, because each court has just one Coroner. Or do some such courts have two or more coroners? If so, the court in question would be a Coroners’ Court. And what is the plural? With several courts, there are presumably several coroners, which justifies the spelling Coroners’ Courts: is Coroner’s Courts OK too?
In the case of the Coroners’ Courts Support Service (pictured: note the two apostrophes) I suppose you could actually argue for Coroners’ Courts’ Support Service. In the other direction, I note that the webpage of the Coroners’ Society has a link to the Coroners’ Court [sic] Support Service.
It reminds me of the inconsistent naming of London tube stations, where the station after Earl’s Court as you go towards Heathrow is Barons Court (no apostrophe). King’s Cross is supposed to have an apostrophe, but not Colliers Wood or Golders Green.
Even when wielding an editor’s blue pencil, where I do try to ensure correct use of apostrophes, I wouldn’t change Sports Day to Sport’s Day or Sports’ Day — would you? I’m really not sure where to put the apostrophe, if any, in Gardener’s/Gardeners’/Gardeners Question Time. In the same spirit, I can live with Coroners Court, too.