The power of a simple punctuation mark should not be underestimated.

Yesterday was National Punctuation Day.  I celebrated by going back to high school, where I proofread the syllabus from each of Hugh’s classes.

Could there be any word more confusing to English writers than its as a possessive?  Let me answer my own question:  no.  So rampant is the inappropriate insertion of an apostrophe that Chris now refers to things, verbally, as something at “its apostrophe S finest.” 

It’s like a tic with him.  It’s a tic at its linguistic peak.  

Short for it is?  Apostrophe. 

Possessive version?  No apostrophe. 

This rule is murdered every day, from hand scribbled signs at convenience stores to ads in the newspapers (ad’s) to emails from CEOs to my children’s homework.  Bill Bryson railed about the out of control abuse of the apostrophe in England, land of the King’s English, years ago.  If the Brits can’t hack the written form of the language they invented, what hope is there for the 13 original colonies, and the 37 unoriginal states? 

A professor in England is asking the same thing.  He proposes going back to the creative, phonetic spelling of the early days of literacy, in which we all spell and punctuate like William Shakespeare and Samuel Pepys.  Damn the dictionary.  Toss the rules!  Get hooked on phonics!  Be willy-nilly!  Nobody would care anymore how we spell argument, Wednesday, judgment, February, accommodate.

The prof figures, if grammar and punctuation are taught but not absorbed, repeated, but not retained, why bother?  If only a minority of sticklers are playing by the rules, maybe the rules should be changed.  Maybe the majority should rule.

It’s like architects who don’t pour sidewalks until they see what shortcuts people are taking.  When the grass is worn down and trodden into a natural path, that’s where the sidewalk goes.

Similarly, the New York Times recently caved and started putting apostrophes in abbreviations – the 1900′s, CPA’s, etc.  That’s the way people write it, so the Grand Old Lady joined the crowd.

Maybe the professor is right.  Maybe that’s the way our language should be ruled as well.  It is an interesting argument.  It’s interesting, indeed.  Judge it on its merits. 

I hope you had a very happy National Punctuation Day, complete with decorations, Hallmark cards, and fancy desserts.  Have a great weekend!

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • email
  • Facebook
  • Twitter