Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 4, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

APOSTROPHE WARS....Via Jim Miller, I learn that the surprise Christmas bestseller in Britain is a book on proper punctuation. And not just any punctuation: apparently the main target of the book is misuse of the apostrophe.

Now, I'm all for using apostrophes correctly, but this is just plain wrong:

It is not just isolated nerds who should care about punctuation. Some pedants do let their love for rules get in the way of free-flowing language there is no reason why you shouldn't start a sentence with a conjunction or split an infinitive if the sentence sounds smoother that way.

But there is every reason for using correct punctuation. Punctuation is not, as its enemies would have it, a device for complicating language and flummoxing those who don't understand it. It is quite the opposite: like signposts on a motorway, punctuation makes it easier to plot your way through the highways and byways of the English language.

That may be true for punctuation in general, but it is 100% wrong for the apostrophe, a piece of punctuation that serves no purpose at all. The meaning of a word is never unclear because an apostrophe has been misused, a fact that ought to be self evident since spoken language seems to get along just fine even though it has never evolved a verbal cue to indicate an apostrophe. (As opposed to commas, periods, and paragraphs, for example, which are marked verbally by various kinds of pauses.)

So go ahead and learn to use apostrophes correctly. It will save you from being thought an uneducated boor. But as my mother the English major contends, if it's meaning we're concerned about we could just get rid of it altogether.

Kevin Drum 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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