No longer feeling under the weather
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No longer feeling under the weather

Being woken up by a thunderstorm in Bangkok on Tuesday morning was a most welcome experience. I had been visibly wilting in the heat for a couple of months, but finally dear old Jupiter Pluvius came to the rescue in splendid style. Just the sound of raindrops falling on the leaves felt comforting and the thirsty birds chirped in with a chorus of thanks.

The rolling thunder continued for much of the day, almost as if the heavens were grumbling about the miserable state of the world below.

Of course it was only a brief respite and we're already back in perspiration mode, but at least it's slightly cooler. It will still be a while before the rainy season arrives so we have to savour every drop of rain.

We are almost two weeks into May which the literary world regards in a positive light ever since Shakespeare introduced us to the "darling buds of May." It has also been referred to as the "merriest month of the year". We could all do desperately with some merriment at the moment although goodness knows where it will come from.

American author O Henry wrote "the month of May is presided over by the spirits of mischief and madness. Pixies and flibbertigibbets flaunt the budding woods." So keep an eye out in the coming weeks. You might even come across a flibbertigibbet taking a stroll down Sukhumvit Road. Now that could be fun.

Cats and dogs

When it comes to precipitation perhaps we should consult the world's leading authority on English weather, Paddington Bear. According to the talking teddy, Londoners have dozens of ways of saying "it's raining." Paddington's particular favourite is "it's bucketing down". Also commonly used are variations on "it's pouring down" including "tipping", "teaming", "pelting", "lashing", "piddling" and the old favourite "raining cats and dogs".

In England there are many regional variations describing rain. "Mizzling" is a Cornish expression for a light form of drizzle while in the Midlands "plothering" is in popular use for heavy rain as is "cow-quaker" when it gets even too much for the cattle. I recall my mother would use the term "damping" when it wasn't actually raining but there was moisture in the air.

US film director George Axelrod once complained: "In England, all they ever do is talk about the weather. But no one does a damn thing about it."

'Flying comma' in trouble

Sad news for lovers of the English language. Apostrophes are continuing to drop like flies. In the latest blow North Yorkshire Council has announced it is scrapping apostrophes on street signs because they create problems with computer systems. Critics call the decision "absurd".

Sometimes referred to as the "flying comma'', the seemingly innocent little item of punctuation basically informs us when there is a letter missing or if a noun takes a possessive. However, it seems to be in serious danger of extinction.

In the latest case one street sign that is affected is St Mary's Walk in Harrogate which has lost its apostrophe. Residents are unhappy with this development and on the new sign someone quickly drew in an apostrophe with a marker pen. One resident snorted "never mind potholes and bin collections. It's about apostrophes in North Yorkshire."

Use and abuse

The apostrophe is possibly the most abused punctuation mark in the English language, although the comma must run a close second. Then we have colons, semi-colons, exclamation marks and quotation marks all of which create havoc of their own. We must not forget the dashes, hyphens, full stops, ellipses and some I have never heard of.

It is just as well we don't use punctuation marks when we speak, otherwise conversations would become rather tricky. As Mark Twain wrote: "One man's colon is another man's comma."

Case for the defence

The biggest blow for the flying comma came in 2019 when the chairman of the British Apostrophe Protection Society quit, stating "the ignorance and laziness in modern times has finally won."

There are still those who bravely battle for the protection of the apostrophe. Marie Clare of the Plain English Society argues plaintively "they are such sweet-looking things… it would be nice to see the apostrophe treated with a little respect."

Another strong defender of the "flying comma" is Lynn Truss, author of the entertaining tome on English grammar Eats, Shoots and Leaves. According to Truss the apostrophe "has always done its proper job in our language with enthusiasm and elegance."

Fruit and veg

For many years the misuse of this particular form of punctuation has been known as the "greengrocer's apostrophe". Walk down any high street or market in England and you will see advertised "banana's", "carrot's", "apple's" and "pear's" when there is absolutely no need for an apostrophe. It feels like it is simply used as a decoration and thrown in because it looks nice. It is not just greengrocers. In pubs you may see "chip's", "pie's" and even "beer's."

Some would argue that it is important to keep it that way as the wobbly punctuation has become part of British culture. Greengrocers have misused the apostrophe for so long that it is almost regarded as an art form.

Finally don't forget the old dictum: "For every apostrophe omitted from an it's, there is an extra one put into an its."

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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