What is the most shocking aspect of the story concerning the abuse of Tom Daley on Twitter?
For some it is the abuse itself; for others the fact that our overworked police thought it important enough to arrest the miscreant. For scholars, educated folk and pedants alike it will have been the crass and horrible misuse of the apostrophe by Daley in his riposte. Unaccountably, according to the BBC report, he confused the possessive with the plural.
These things happen on Twitter.
Some years ago, when the law was not quite such an ass, a chap was hauled before the Camberwell magistrates charged with being drunk and disorderly.
What form did his disorderly conduct take, asked the beak on the bench? He was shouting, Your Worship, replied the Bobby who had arrested the loud imbiber. People are entitled to shout when drunk, pronounced the wise judge, and the case was dismissed.
In similar vein, perhaps people are allowed to go beyond norms on Twitter; to vent instant emotions and steam.
Can any sane person really claim that these 140 characters are seriously held positions or thoughtfully crafted stances made about anything in particular – or anything at all? Surely they are swiftly made observations, reactions to sights and events, and not made to be taken seriously. Heat of the moment stuff, not a genuinely held belief or carefully considered view.
No eminent personage lesser than the Lord Chief Justice, the appropriately named Lord Judge, implied just this when he quashed the criminal conviction of Paul Chambers for tweeting that he would blow Robin Hood Airport sky high. An earlier twittering case, when the name of former Sheffield United footballer Ched Evans’ rape victim was made public, is wholly unacceptable, not to be tolerated and falls into a different category – the criminal misuse of free speech.
The apostrophe, on the other hand, deserves more careful consideration and respect from its users; unlike most tweets.