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Who took the apostrophe out of Badgerys Creek?

Date

Michael O'Reilly

Suburban stain: Badgerys Creek, the potential site of Sydney's second airport.

Suburban stain: Badgerys Creek, the potential site of Sydney's second airport.

Something has to be done about Badgerys Creek. As the seldom-visited corner of western Sydney firms as the proposed site of Sydney’s second airport, I’ve realised that we Australians are teetering on the brink of international embarrassment and ridicule.

It’s the name, of course. Badgerys Creek. Where on earth did the apostrophe go?

Ah yes, the curious absence of the apostrophe in place names, as ordained by the Geographical Names Board of NSW.

I’ve often wondered why this was allowed to happen. Was it because many of us are inexpert grammarians and, by avoiding apostrophes entirely, no one can get caught out?

Was Australia decades ahead of the punctuation-free trend now being inflicted upon us by texting millennials?

Or was it because, with some names, we’re not quite sure where the apostrophe belonged in the first place?

Whatever the reason, our wholesale elision of that little skerrick of ink has led to some eye-punishing constructions in the Sydney environs alone.

Frenchs Forest is an insult to the English language – and possibly to the French, although that’s less of a worry. Coasters Retreat, Regents Park, Ropes Crossing – how many ropes, or was it first crossed by a Mr Rope, or even Mr Ropes?

Most of those places are tucked away but consider the landmark eyesores of Kings CrossGovetts Leap and Evans Lookout. I’ve had to restrain myself from correcting these signs with a Sharpie when showing a visitor around.

The apostrophe apostasy is even guilty of creating words hitherto unknown to the English language. Consider Sydney’s founder, Arthur Phillip, who stumbled into a creek and imaginatively named it after his monarch (instead of asking the locals, who had been calling it Tucoerah for ages).

So, George’s River, which became Georges River, which now masquerades as "The Georges". There is no such thing as a Georges and, moreover, what about the honour of poor old King George, whichever one it was? So much for the King’s English.

At least religious figures tend to be spared such abasement when it comes to churches: consider St Michael’s and St Joseph’s and, of course, St Mary’s Cathedral. But as soon as a St Mary becomes a suburb … St Marys. A thunderbolt of divine retribution is surely overdue.

But back to Badgerys Creek. How are we going to explain, as the first jet-lagged visitors arrive, that there is no curious marsupial called a badgery or even a badgerys – we just couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge the original possession of James Badgery (who really missed the top of the market).

We’ll be an object of derision for all other nations that speak English, or even pretend to.

Even if the airport is given some official name (many nations tend to name airports after a ruling strongman and, indeed, Tony Abbott International has a certain ring to it), the stain will remain on the suburb that hosts it.

Mostly, I’m worried about Lynne Truss, the combative author who wrote that wonderful primer on punctuation, Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

Truss once got a lot of publicity by correcting the poster for a silly Hugh Grant movie called Two Weeks Notice.

I can see her now, in the arrivals lounge, adding an apostrophe to Badgerys Creek, while telling us what ignoramuses we are in a fancy accent.

So what will it take to re-possessive our place names?

Some sensible nations have ditched the possessive "s" as well as the apostrophe. Badgery Creek, French Forest – these all look better, although King Cross is a bit alarming.

But this will require wholesale and expensive replacing of road signs. I propose an easier way.

Superannuated teachers and subeditors. There are armies of retired folk with a righteous streak of pedantry, ready to reclaim the apostrophe for Australia. They’ll do it for bottom dollar – hell, some of the ones I know will do it for a bus pass and a box of indelible markers.

But it will take a while to track down every example. And therein lies the worry.

Because the pressure is building. It’s all over the media. We need a new airport and some courageous politician is going to make an announcement … oh, any century now.

There isn’t a decade to lose.

Michael O’Reilly is a Fairfax journalist.

33 comments so far

  • I have little doubt the absence of an apostrophe in the Princes Highway is largely responsible for its gender transformation to the Princess Highway in the minds of many. That, or they may just be the same people who catch "fairies" across the harbour.

    Commenter
    Michael
    Date and time
    March 31, 2014, 7:34AM
    • Yup, this one sprang immediately to mind.

      Commenter
      RTTB
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 31, 2014, 1:05PM
    • I think that we can conclude that all place names normally don't have an apostrophe and that all standard written use of the English language uses apostrophes where necessary but NOT if it's a PLACE NAME.

      Commenter
      Econorat
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 31, 2014, 1:24PM
    • It is called Princes Highway (plural) in honour of several princes. It used to be called Prince's Highway (named for one particular prince).

      Commenter
      Brent
      Date and time
      March 31, 2014, 2:32PM
  • I can't work out how much irony there is in this article. Either way, the sensible course of action is to remove all possessive apostrophes from all proper nouns. (Just as the apostrophe is missing from the possessive 'its' - sensible pragmatic and neat.). I do this already but am often pulled up by misinformed well-intentioned people for, for example, Horsefields Bushlark or Shooters Hill. It is encouraging that the place names authority agrees, now we have to extend the convention to other proper names.

    To balance this out, I also believe we should use extra apostrophes for plural non-possessive acronyms in the interests of clarity, but that is probably too far too soon for most language enthusiasts.

    Commenter
    JR
    Date and time
    March 31, 2014, 8:10AM
    • The sensible course of action is NOT to remove all possessive apostrophes from proper names. The correct course of action is to restore possessive apostrophes to all place names and everywhere else they have been removed by lazy illiterate people and government agencies whose job is not rewrite the language.

      Commenter
      Qcat
      Location
      The bush
      Date and time
      March 31, 2014, 8:34AM
    • I'll never understand why people have problems with the possessive pronoun "its" having no apostrophe. The same people never seem to have problems with the other possessive pronouns "hers", "his", "yours", "ours" and ".theirs".

      Commenter
      LesM
      Date and time
      March 31, 2014, 9:10AM
    • He He Qcat - you don't give any reasons or justification for this other than 'it is right'. I assume you'd be against all similar changes to language that occurred after we first started speaking Angle, Saxon, Latin or Greek? Or more exactly, no changes to written language after the monks first started writing in language that is incomprehensible to modern folk?

      Perhaps we should have frozen the language at the time of Chaucer? Or Gutenberg? Or early copies of the SMH with their written-like f's instead of s's. Ooops. I hope you see my point for apostrophes in that last sentence.

      Commenter
      JR
      Date and time
      March 31, 2014, 9:20AM
  • If we are going to quibble about apostrophes in place names, can we take on the Green Grocers with their "potatoe's and "tomatoe's" and their "tomatoe $3.99 a kilo or potatoe $3.99 a kilo? And I am not quibbling about the price.

    Commenter
    Uncle Quentin
    Date and time
    March 31, 2014, 8:57AM
    • What's a "tomatoe", or a "potatoe"?

      Commenter
      boyo
      Date and time
      March 31, 2014, 11:11AM

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