by Whispering Gums

A post in our series featuring works published in 1924 (or by authors who died in 1924). This post’s subject is a short column published in Adelaide’s The Register on 17 August 1924, by the Victorian born novelist, musician and journalist, Kate Helen Weston.

Kate Helen Weston (1863-1929) might have been born in Victoria – in Ballarat to British parents who came to Australia due to the gold rush – but she died in Adelaide. Indeed, she was described by one “L.B.” in The Australian Woman’s Mirror (of 24 February 1925) as “one of the best-known of Adelaide’s feminine inky-wayfarers”. She has an entry in AustLit, and in Debra Adelaide’s Australian women writers: a bibliographic guide, but not in the Australian dictionary of biography. Adelaide’s News also provided a brief biography of her life in their “Pen Portraits of People” series, after she was elected president of the Liberal Women’s Educational Association.

Unfortunately these sources aren’t quite in tune with each other. AustLit says that she married John Samuel Weston “in Adelaide in 1885, and moved there in 1892”. Adelaide’s News says she married “Mr. J.T. Weston … and later came to Adelaide”. AustLit says that she was widowed in 1894, and “turned to writing to provide financially for herself and her children. She contributed to many Australian newspapers, and published fiction between 1911 and 1928”. They also say that “she was Lady Superintendent of the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide between 1900 and 1914”. The News, on the other hand, says that “after her husband’s death she accepted the position of secretary to the Elder Conservatorium, which she held for 22 years”. So, a few differences in detail here. John Samuel was her husband says one, and J.T. says the other., and there are differences in their description of her Elder Conservatorium role. These would be good to get right, but right now I’ll just note them and move on.

The News tells us that she “developed literary and artistic tastes” and had published three novels in London, but in fact overall she published four novels, one a few years after the News’s article. Her novels were The partners (1911), The man MacDonald (1913), The prelude (1914) and The vagabond soul (1928). The man MacDonald, says News, “had a wide vogue”. Both AustLit and the News mention her other literary and journalistic work, but AustLit is more specific, telling us that she contributed to many Australian newspapers. She was, they say, “music and art critic for The Register, contributed to The Woman’s Record – a monthly publication – and, according to her obituary in The Advertiser, she was the ‘founder of community singing in Adelaide’.”

The News and AustLit both describe her wider community involvement and achievements which were considerable. These included having a go at politics. The News writes that she stood for a ward in municipal elections in 1923, and “polled the highest percentage of votes ever gained by a woman in the elections in this State”. She was also actively involved in the National Council of Women. Her death, after falling from a tram from which she never regained consciousness, seems tragic.

Now, because we are focusing this year on pieces published in 1924, and because I figure that readers of our blog are interested in language, I’ve chosen a piece she wrote on language, and on punctuation in particular. What do you think about her solution at the end to the ” his or her” problem.

The ubiquitous apostrophe

By Kate Helen Weston.

The English language abounds with lingual pitfalls for the unwary tongue and pen, and one may be excused for not always remembering when to avoid doubling the final consonant; whether to write a or an before such words as hotel, hare, heir, historical, and hypothetical; what are the exceptions to the general rule of adding s to form the plural, or when the final f should be changed into v and es added. These are some of the tricks of the language, which bring premature grey hairs to the temples of the conscientious correspondent, but even they can be dodged by reference to Roget’s Thesaurus or some other good book of similes, which will provide us with just as good a word to suit our purpose, and save us from these puzzling personal decisions. Pre-positions, too, are tantalizing, for we have been advised “never to use a preposition to end a sentence with,” but one is not always sure when a word is a preposition, or when it has gone back on us and become an adverb. Still, there is worse to come!

Pandora’s Box.

Long ago, in the early days of written language, some Pandora opened a box and let loose upon the world a crowd of evils, in the shape of full stops, colons, semi colons, commas, interrogation and exclamation, marks, and, last of all, the agile, impertinent, aggressive, elusive, irrepressible little sign which we call the apostrophe. The apostrophe was the only one of the brotherhood who chose to belong to the air forces, and is never to be found on the ground with the rank and file of its more staid and less adventurous fellows.

Now, punctuation is the bete noir of many people. The legal profession dodge the difficulty by saying everything in print that they have to say, with nothing but a final full stop. John Jones frequently writes his sign thus:— “John. Jones” thus raising an invincible barrier between the name bestowed upon him by his godparents in his callow youth, and the honest patronymic, which stands between him and a carping world. Many a good manuscript finds its way back to the author because his ideas have out run his punctuation, and there is no punctuation superintendent kept in the modern newspaper office. The colon and semi-colon, are put to the same use by many persons, though there are fundamental differences in their structural intention, while the inadvertent use or absence of a comma has turned otherwise masterly English into an absurdity. Yet these things are as nothing compared with the vagaries of the apostrophe!

Most people have a hazy notion that by virtue of the authority of English grammarians, the apostrophe signifies the possessive case, and is married to the letter s, but of which is the better half or should take precedence of the other, many are in error. Even those of us who flatter ourselves that we have the apostrophe under our thumb, so to speak, have our moments of abstraction, in which the sly little wretch takes advantage of us, and it is only when the printer produces our thumb-stained manuscript that we realize our frailty and the opportunism of our linguistic national enemy.

How frequently we see upon a brass plate the inscription “Dentists Bell,” but the absence of the apostrophe leaves us in doubt whether it is the bell of one dentist ro (sic) a combined host of dentists. In a well-known Sydney Hotel, the alternate corridors indicate with a pointing hand the locality of the “Ladie’s Bath’s,” leaving one in ignorance as to whether “Ladies” is singular or plural, and whether she is English in any case; also who and what are possessed by the bath. Anthony Horderns’ sale notices, too, convince one that though this merchant prince may control millions, he has yet failed to subjugate that infinitesimal little Greek comma, which flouts him with its curved finger at its nose, and turns him into a plural whether he will or no.

Music and literature

Nor are the arts immune. Not long ago I picked up a programme of one of M. Verbrugghen’s orchestral concerts, where I found an excerpt from Wag-nerds “Tannhauser,” quoted as “The return of the pilgrim’s!” This had a decidedly unfinished symphony sound, and might lead the uninitiated to wonder whether it was the pilgrim’s knapsack, purse or dog which had found its (not “it’s”, please, Mr. Printer) way back to its rightful owner. Literary persons are no better. Even E. V. Lucas, that deli-cate essayist, in his “London Lavender,” writing of his — (or his Mr. Falconer’s) — first baby, in a fit of depression on the uselessness of fathers once they have served nature’s purpose, says:—

“Every baby puts some one’s nose out of joint, it’s father’s or mother’s, or some other baby’s.” Now it is bad enough, from the mother’s point of view, to call a baby “it” at all -but “IT’S!”

Of course, Mr. Lucas would blame the proof reader, whose duty it is to attend to the doings of the apostrophical little monster, and after all, one person’s apostrophe is as good as another, and there is always the printer to reckon with!

The English are a long-suffering people, for other languages are not, as ours, and do not countenance a perplexing matrimonial alliance between the letter s and the unfaithful apostrophe. In French linguistics if you, or Jane or John, or your neighbour, or your aunt or the sister of your aunt is in possession of a pen or a book, you say so, without any reference to aviating apostrophes, which, in English, would hover above your script, and, more than likely, make a descent in the wrong place. Likewise in other Latin tongues, and as for the Teuton— clearing his throat gutturally, he puts his foot down firmly and says, “Es ist mein,” and that is all there is about it, because we should have to argue through the medium of misplaced and aggravating apostrophes, to which we are not equal. We would not, however, be unkind enough to abolish altogether the time-honoured little possessive sign, but there is a place in which it could really help us through a gap in the English language, and still retain its possessive quality. A new pro-noun is badly needed in such sentences as ‘They went each to his and her own place (though they would have been far more likely to be both going to the same place.) How much easier to say, “They went each to’ place.” This is merely a suggestion!


Kate Helen Weston, “The ubiquitous apostrophe“, The Register, 10 May 1924, p. 7, accessed 24 February 2024

Kate Weston, in, accessed 26 February 2024. (Limited free access is available.)

“Pen portraits of people: Musician and journalist“, News, 10 December 1924. p. 6, accessed 24 February 2024

Other sources are linked in the post.


Whispering Gums, aka Sue T, majored in English Literature, before completing her Graduate Diploma in Librarianship, but she spent the majority of her career as an audio-visual archivist. Taking early retirement, she engaged actively in Wikipedia, writing and editing articles about Australian women writers, before turning to litblogging in 2009. Australian women writers have been her main reading interest since the 1980s.