I can't say I share Mark and Geoff's agitation about the Jeremiad about the disappearance of the apostrophe in the Daily Mail. True, the tone of these things is enormously tiresome, with the outrage camped up just enough so the writer can deter the charge of taking himself too seriously. (It's like karaoke singers who clown and mug as they sing songs by the Carpenters that they really cherish.) But these complaints actually leave one with a very reassuring sense of complacency about the state of English. If the greatest linguistic threats we're facing are things like the confusion of prone and supine and a deteriorating grasp on the lie/lay distinction, then we'll probably muddle through. It's like hearing someone warn of grave domestic security threats and then learning that he's mostly concerned about Canadian sturgeon-poaching on the US side of Lake Huron.
And now it has come down to the use of the apostrophe, a rule so inconsequential that you can actually send students to Strunk and White for counsel about it. When you think about it, it belies the charges of elitism that linguists are always leveling at these people. Think of the way Lynne Truss has ridden this shtick to the top of the bestseller lists, drawing millions of readers into a sense of confraternity with everybody else who got the possessive rule down cold in middle school. What could be more democratic than that? Language may be infinitely deep and mysterious, but when it comes to mastery of the apostrophe, you and I walk hand-in-hand with Henry James.
Still, one small thing. Johns concludes by saying: "If Paris, according to Henry IV, was well worth a mass, then the English language is most definitely worth an apostrophe." If memory serves, though, Henry was saying that
the mass was expendible change was good for you.