“Well I told ’em right then”, Fido said
“It should be easy to see
The crux of the biscuit
is the apostrophe”
– Frank Zappa, “Stink Foot”
As a general in the Grammar Wars, and oft-wounded veteran of said conflict, it is not easy for me to admit defeat. However, in at least one battle against the continuing deterioration of the proper forms of the English language, it’s time to take a lesson from Czar Alexander after the Battle of Borodino, and burn the mutha to the ground so to speak.
It’s time to just get rid of the apostrophe.
Don’t deny it. You’ve felt the same thing. Not only when reading Facebook status updates from friends who allegedly have at least some kind of college education or looking at greeting cards that wish you “Happy Holidays from the Savidge’s” (from the Savidge’s what?), but also when piecing words together yourself. There isn’t a single one of us who hasn’t accidentally typed “its” instead of “it’s” either with or without the help of a smartphone’s auto-miscorrect feature. The sheer abundance of greengrocer’s apostrophes out there has reached the point of being a blot on the landscape.
So why do we even bother with this archaic piece of punctuation while wonderful marks like the interrobang and the snark, which can actually be of use in written English, languish?
While contractions have a long and storied history in the English language, they really have morphed into something entirely different. Our brains have wired themselves over the centuries not to think of contractions as shortenings of two or more words (unless you’re Data) but as words unto themselves.
The confusion between the “you–” words is a perfect example. The reason that certain people today tend to type “your” or “youre” instead of “you’re” isn’t that they’re illiterate or ignorant (although a fair chunk of them are) it’s that they literally don’t think of “you’re” as being “you are.” To them “you’re” is a distinct word which just happens to be a synonym of the two word phrase “you are.” The same can be said for “there” and “they’re;” people aren’t thinking “they are” and shortening it to a contraction, they are thinking “they’re.”
Now let’s look at won’t. This is a mutated contraction and qualifies as a distinct word. What letters are being deleted in the contraction? Not a one. Under normal English contraction rules the contraction would be willn’t, wiln’t, or win’t. But because these sound awkward our language has taken the phrase “wont not” from Shakespeare’s time and substituted its contraction for what would be the proper one for won’t. Won’t is its own unique creature and today the apostrophe in it is archaic and superfluous.
So, despite being immortalized by Tom Lehrer, it’s time “N Apostrophe T” just faded off into the distance to be replaced by “nt.”
Contradictory and Conflated Rules
Remember, always use “‘s” to denote possesion. Uh, unless you are saying “its.” Or “hers.” Or “theirs.” Or “ours.” Or the noun ends in an s. Or sometimes an x. Or a soft c sound. Or you’re using British spelling rules. Unless those British spelling rules are modern British instead of classic British.
Let’s face it. The rules for writing possesion are not as easy nowadays as Professor Strunk once insisted. They weren’t even that easy when he was writing. (Has anyone ever really written “conscience'” as a possessive form, or told someone they have a “heel of Achilles?”) And they get even more and more complex day by day. This is “Sungenis’ Blog” after all, in which he praises “Groucho Marx’ wit.”
British style has been trending away from using apostrophes in general possessives for some time (“mens clothing,” “peoples bank,” “ladies washroom” etc.) and it’s time to once again copy the Queen’s English. For the most part these possessive apostrophes are unneeded and outdated.
C’thulhu F’thagn R’leyh T’Pau Q’apla Shur’tugal Ra’zac Zar’roc T’ai T’gentu’gat Wi’tch and so on.Stop the insanity!
If getting rid of the apostrophe means that sci-fi writers will lose their favorite crutch in creating names that look exotic and hard to pronounce on paper then so be it, the apostrophe must die!
This will not be an easy transition. It will not happen overnight. But it must happen, and happen soon. Our language will be the better for it.
Let’s get rid of the apostrophe.