Let’s put the power of the apostrophe to good use

Disgraced: former RBS boss 'Sir' Fred Goodwin
Disgraced: former RBS boss 'Sir' Fred Goodwin

THE power of the inverted comma could help us to solve the Fred Goodwin problem.

It is astonishing how the meaning of a word can be completely altered by the judicious or injudicious use of a just four tiny apostrophes. The classic example would be a sign proclaiming ‘ “Fresh” vegetables on sale here’.

The grocer means that the vegetables really are fresh. Dug up that very morning, maybe.

But by shrouding the key word in inverted commas, exactly the opposite is implied. It’s instant irony.

The grocer thought that inverted commas could be used as emphasis and that his customers would say, “Gosh! Those sprouts must be extra fresh!”

Instead, of course, the customer sees the word “Fresh” shrouded in apostrophes and assumes that the grocer is being ironic, trying to flog off rotten old veg.

Which brings us to Sir Fred Goodwin and all chancers who receive honours from a short-sighted government, only for it to turn out that they had such feet of clay that a potter could make teapots from them.

But no matter how much obloquy is heaped on such people, that title remains. So it is still Sir Fred, even as he lurches from one disgrace to another.

People occasionally call for his knighthood to be rescinded, but instead, could not Parliament have the power to enforce the use of inverted commas around a title?

It would be a form of super injunction whereby the media henceforth would be obliged at all times to refer to not to Sir Fred Goodwin but “Sir” Fred Goodwin.

The ironic power of the inverted comma would thus have been harnessed for the forces of good.