Geoff Pullum has a typically witty and provocative post about the CIA report-writing style guide, Style Manual and Writers Guide for Intelligence Publications. There’s other stuff of interest (for instance, the CIA uses the Oxford comma), but what I want to highlight here is this passage:
Before I go on, though, I wonder if you have noticed three remarkable things already. First, the book’s title: No apostrophe on Writers! Did you spot that? Second, no apostrophe on Watchers in “Word Watchers List,” either. And third (I was toying with you) I deliberately followed suit two paragraphs back when I wrote “rogues gallery” (if the CIA can risk flouting international apostrophe conventions, so can I).
You may recall that in “Being an Apostrophe,” I reported that “I always use the apostrophe in the standard way, even when texting; I’m a conservative.” Not one of those long-haired pinko radical grammarians, the Happiness Boys. But I also said that “I wouldn’t shed a tear for it,” because “the level of harmful confusion attendant on dropping all apostrophes from written English would be zero.” Our intelligence agencies seem to take a similar view, and don’t bother to include apostrophes on modifier nouns. That way they don’t have to decide whether it should have been Writer’s Guide or Writers’ Guide. They just finesse the question. Very sensible.
I don’t think that had ever occurred to me, but sure enough, it is sensible. I’m normally a stylistic conservative myself, but like Pullum, I wouldn’t shed a tear if those apostrophes disappeared from the written language.