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December 2, 2019 9:48 AM   Subscribe

'Laziness has won': apostrophe society admits its defeat (The Guardian): "Fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English Language. We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!" The Apostrophe Protection Society was started by John Richards, a former newspaper reporter and sub editor, in 2001. "When I first set it up I would get about 40 emails or letters a week from people all over the world. Many were saying how it was about time that we had something like this," he said. "But then two years ago it started to tail off and nowadays I hardly get anything." (BBC) The APS site will remain online " for some time for reference and interest." posted by not_the_water (48 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
It appears as though the grocer's have won a massive victory!
posted by delicious-luncheon at 9:53 AM on December 2 [9 favorites]


Then they came for the interrobang—and there was no punctuation left to speak for it.
posted by youarenothere at 9:55 AM on December 2 [5 favorites]


Counterpoint (Mark Liberman, Language Log):
That would be the "ignorance and laziness" found in John Donne and William Shakespeare ("Apostropocalypse Now", 1/15/2012), or Thomas Jefferson ("A soul candidly acknowleging it's fault", 6/9/2004), or Emily Dickinson (e.g. "The Brain, within it's Groove / Runs evenly — and true –"), or any other elite writer before the a century and a half ago, when the current (and entirely illogical) set of conventions for apostrophe usage in English was established.
posted by Not A Thing at 9:55 AM on December 2 [7 favorites]


Its a travesty! The barbarian’s have won, and civilization will receive it’s just desserts!
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:55 AM on December 2 [7 favorites]


As long as we have "Bob's Quick Guide to the Apostrophe, You Idiots", the fight will continue.
posted by SansPoint at 9:56 AM on December 2 [20 favorites]


Well actually, youre supposed to say "Laziness' has won," but what can we expect from a bunch of quitter's?
posted by Western Infidels at 10:00 AM on December 2 [5 favorites]


'
posted by chavenet at 10:03 AM on December 2 [18 favorites]




There's nothing better than a grammar scold to cure me of my very strong prescriptivist tendandancies. I want to agree with them, but they are often just so damned unlikeable I don't want to be associated with them.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:10 AM on December 2 [15 favorites]


Imagine no possessions...
posted by Mchelly at 10:11 AM on December 2 [29 favorites]


Might as well admit that nothing matters and shut the lights off on civilization altogether.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:12 AM on December 2 [10 favorites]


Barbarism descends.
posted by jquinby at 10:13 AM on December 2 [1 favorite]


Na, i got nuttin' to say.
posted by lalochezia at 10:18 AM on December 2 [1 favorite]


Imagine no possessions...

Its easy if you try
posted by swr at 10:34 AM on December 2 [8 favorites]


There's nothing better than a grammar scold to cure me of my very strong prescriptivist tendandancies. I want to agree with them, but they are often just so damned unlikeable I don't want to be associated with them.

I have come to hate the relativist counter-pedantry against them even more.
posted by thelonius at 10:38 AM on December 2 [31 favorites]


Is the apostrophe really at risk? I doubt there has ever been a time when you couldn't walk around and find grammatical mistakes on store signs, etc.—there's a reason they're called "grocer's apostrophes", after all—but it's not like the its/it's rule has really lost traction in written English, in anything more formal than a text message.

There are lots of ways the world is going straight to Hell, but I'm not sure I see this one.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:44 AM on December 2 [2 favorites]


Tis it's, or it's its?
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:55 AM on December 2


Thats the question.
posted by chavenet at 10:57 AM on December 2 [1 favorite]


I ask my correspondents to stick to traditional English norms and strive to avoid gifting, impacting or disrespecting me with inappropriate apostrophes.
posted by zaixfeep at 11:00 AM on December 2 [1 favorite]


That would be the "ignorance and laziness" found in John Donne and William Shakespeare ("Apostropocalypse Now", 1/15/2012)

Beating people over the head with Shakespeare's orthography is a little weird because it's not like he's the one who put down the texts as we have them. They were all prepared and printed by others, so while we can be somewhat confident in the words of the text, I think it's a pretty huge leap to say that what we have is in any way indicative of the way he himself would have used punctuation. I get that Liberman is trying to give grammar scolds their own medicine back to them, but this particular example suffers from an unusual form of over-over-correction. Plus, it's not like he even had a consistent spelling for his own name, so I wouldn't bet a cent on whether his personal apostrophe usage would conform to modern standards or deviate from them.

In any case, the apostrophe will be fine, we'll all continue on our merry way with some of us making a minor mistake and other finding it distracting but not really meaning-breaking, and hopefully the amount and tone of scolding strangers about stuff like this will drop from the deeply uncomfortable heights it sometimes reaches.
posted by Copronymus at 11:06 AM on December 2 [7 favorites]


Here come's an S!
posted by Foosnark at 11:10 AM on December 2 [4 favorites]


I'm getting ready for the future, communicating exclusively with lewd gestures and voiceless linguolabial trills. Bring on the Visigoths.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:14 AM on December 2 [4 favorites]


Most of us have realized that the nickname 'grammar nazi' is too apt, and thrown down our beskulled peaked caps.
posted by turkeybrain at 11:15 AM on December 2 [4 favorites]


Counterpoint (Mark Liberman, Language Log):

I find a citation style that implies that Jefferson was writing shit in 2004 a lot more confusing than the occasional errant apostrophe tbh
posted by solotoro at 11:21 AM on December 2 [2 favorites]


Is the apostrophe really at risk? I doubt there has ever been a time when you couldn't walk around and find grammatical mistakes on store signs, etc.—there's a reason they're called "grocer's apostrophes", after all

I'm with you! The average person uses apostrophes very badly but that doesn't mean they're going to stop being used correctly in, like, books, and shit.

This reminds me of when I was studying French and being told not to worry about noun grammar, citing some study (that I am probably misremembering badly) of something like 40% of random French people stopped on the street couldn't correctly identify the grammar of select nouns.

The point of language is communication, not perfection.
posted by Automocar at 11:25 AM on December 2 [2 favorites]


I’ve been in a number of MENS rooms. The first one I noticed was in a university building, so I assumed it was Latin.
posted by MtDewd at 11:28 AM on December 2 [5 favorites]


Well actually, youre supposed to say "Laziness' has won," but what can we expect from a bunch of quitter's?

I'm sorry to mansplain, but surely its'

"Laziness' ha's won"
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 11:38 AM on December 2


I’ve been in a number of MENS rooms. The first one I noticed was in a university building, so I assumed it was Latin.

Well I suppose I do a lot of thinking in there...
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:45 AM on December 2 [8 favorites]


Language should–at a minimum–be two things: easy and clear. The consensus on how we define ease and clarity will likely change over time, and that's okay. If I can understand you and if it was relatively easy for you to convey your meaning, then, hey, it was a successful lexical transaction!

For those who need more, there will always be poetry, literature, and technical manuals.

Hack the planet syntax!
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 12:49 PM on December 2 [1 favorite]


I was a grammar scold until recently -- despite having made the prescriptivism vs. descriptivism transition on vocabulary much earlier -- but someone on MetaFilter pointed at an essay about how grammar scolding and insistence that people should use language in a specific register of formality and from a specific dialect is exclusionary and racist.

I can still pull out the old grammar-scolding skills if someone is being a pompous asshole on the internet and deserves to be hoisted by their own petard, but I try to restrain myself from noticing or caring in 99% of written conversations.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:51 PM on December 2 [11 favorites]


This is the end of John Richards' crusade, but the rest of the Apostrophe Protection Society (who are anonymous, probably because their names also end in s) will keep up the fight and the website. I, for one, will continue to respond to "Grocer's Apostrophes" by asking anyone working in the produce department exactly what is the item the avocado has that's on sale for $1.49. Come to think of it, ever since the supermarkets all merged into two massive chains (Albertson's and Kroger) and Wal-Mart got into the grocery business, I don't see them anymore - I guess there are Grammar Mavens at work at the corporate offices. But then, Kroger's Southern California chain "Ralphs" and Albertson's "Vons" never had apostrophes in their names (Ralphs was founded by Mr. Ralphs and Vons by Mr. Vonderahe). And they shut down the worst offenders, the Boys, or Boy's or Boys' markets. I've been looking particularly closely at the Trader Joe's chain and they've been pretty meticulous (although I once caught them with a sign that misspelled Muenster cheese).
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:35 PM on December 2 [3 favorites]


...but it's not like the its/it's rule has really lost traction in written English, in anything more formal than a text message.

You obviously haven't had to edit business letters from C-level executives before the letters go out.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:39 PM on December 2 [6 favorites]


I'm in a fairly similar place to jacquilynne. I put in my 10,000 hours and then some as an editor, specializing in copy-editing, so I can match wits and shibboleths with anyone any day. I contributed to multiple shelves' worth of magazines and books as a writer or editor. But in the course of my work, I became a descriptivist. I'm more than 10,000 hours into my next career at this point, and part of what propelled me here was finding that there are higher callings than policing grammar (or anything, for that matter).

It's not that I don't care about quality; it's that what defines quality to me, in work and in relationships, has changed. Of course I will still put the finishing touches on anything that crosses my desk, but I don't have time to get into it with other people about these things on a regular basis. Once more, I've backed away from arguing with people on the internet. I've met a lot of amazing people who I probably would have judged heavily and unnecessarily for their specific grammar usage in a past life.

Along those lines, this is a good read.
posted by limeonaire at 2:07 PM on December 2 [6 favorites]


C'est la guerre
posted by East14thTaco at 2:11 PM on December 2 [2 favorites]


What a bunch of loosers!
posted by Chitownfats at 2:56 PM on December 2 [4 favorites]


I briefly lived in a high-rise condo building whose property manager posted a lot of announcements in the elevator. On any given announcement, there we're invariably MISUSED apostrophes and baffling underlined or italicized or capitalized words'.

I liked the mistakes because they often were rather innovative in their illogic. The constancy of the mistakes also reminded me that growing up with a ton of access and encouragement re: reading, and thus the ability to spot "correct" grammar on sight, is not universal. I only am a decent speller and grammar user because I read Time magazine, the local newspaper (this was permitted as breakfast table reading) and all the Pern and Xanth books I could get my hands on.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:57 PM on December 2


Teaching EFL/returnee courses, I do my best to teach students how to write as formally/correctly as I can. My goal for them is to be able to write clearly, and, as they will be faced with a good half dozen standardized tests all set to radically different standards, I aim to teach them forms that are unlikely to be marked wrong by the various tests. That means I still teach them to avoid starting a sentence with and/but/or/so/because because the Japanese board of education is largely made of of wizened old people who learned EFL sometime in the 1970s, most likely from grammar books teaching stuff from the 1950s. Not exactly the people that will view English as a living language that evolves over time.

That said, there’s a reason most English grammar classes are run by the Japanese teacher, and native teachers are left to teach oral communication: most native speakers are fucking terrible at explaining grammar to kids. It took a long time to get my partner teachers to understand that I could actually help with teaching grammar, too. Of course, part of that was being absolutely terrible at it, and being forced to go back and study it until I was capable of teaching it.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:45 PM on December 2 [2 favorites]


grammar nazis
Are we the baddie's?
posted by quinndexter at 7:58 PM on December 2 [4 favorites]


Imagine all the people
Learning basic grammar
Who hoo-ooo!
posted by Meatbomb at 3:10 AM on December 3


I love prescriptivist tears.

People have been ignoring (or randomly placing extra) apostrophes in the context of vernacular literacy (store signs, text messages) all along, with no apparent loss of specificity or intelligibility. Somehow we managed to go tens of thousands of years as a species speaking without punctuation marks other than sentence intonation, pauses, and inference from semantic and syntactic context. No one is confused when I say “the coffees good here” or “which coffees do you prefer” or “this coffees flavor is great.” We don’t pronounce “coffees” differently when it is possessive or plural or a verbal contraction.

Prescriptive rules associated with a particular era of print literacy and its relation to social inequality are not natural laws. Language changes, often towards the efficiencies it develops in vernacular usage. We don’t need “he or she” when “they” works just fine as a singular third person gender-neutral pronoun in anaphoric context.

And oh my god whatever will happen to the poor semicolon, or the jobs of people who make apostrophe keys for computer keyboards?

The kids are alright and so are the grocer(‘)s. Pity the copyeditors and grammar zealots. Language is always changing before they can retire.

/linguist
posted by spitbull at 4:32 AM on December 3 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't worry about the semicolon; it's started a second career in programming.
posted by The Nutmeg of Consolation at 5:11 AM on December 3 [2 favorites]


Puzzled as to why so many relativists insist on making their points using correct conventional spelling and grammar. Be the change you want to see!
posted by inire at 5:15 AM on December 3 [1 favorite]




We are writing here in a relatively highly educated and socially elite context (speaking of a general mefite demographic, I realize with a broad brush) where educated, high level literacy and use of prestige dialect (writing has dialects too) convey social signals about authority, credibility, and even sincerity; our only medium here is writing.

Saying grammatical relativism is hypocrisy if you write according to prescriptive literate prestige “rules” is a straw man argument. The very important function of prescriptive literate grammar rules is to signify educated status. Yes there are cases where such rules disambiguate written expression, or there used to be. Every rule has a source in some syntactic or semantic utility once served by the rule for some group of people; such groups of people continue to exist and new ones form.
posted by spitbull at 7:32 AM on December 3 [3 favorites]


I have long maintained that the most radical change that could be made to American educational curricula would be to teach scientific (including social-) linguistics in the middle and high school years in place of whatever “social studies” has become.
posted by spitbull at 7:35 AM on December 3


Saying grammatical relativism is hypocrisy if you write according to prescriptive literate prestige “rules” is a straw man argument. The very important function of prescriptive literate grammar rules is to signify educated status.

Not hypocrisy, precisely - just the continuing reinforcement of the association between educational / social status (and all the classist assumptions that go along with that) and prescriptivist rules / prestige dialect. But then I suppose there can be no ethical linguistics under capitalism!
posted by inire at 7:49 AM on December 3 [1 favorite]


Not hypocrisy, precisely - just the continuing reinforcement of the association between educational / social status (and all the classist assumptions that go along with that) and prescriptivist rules / prestige dialect.

Being pro-choice doesn't mean you have to go out and get an abortion. Being pro-write-in-your-own-register doesn't mean you have to change your own register.

That said, I spend a lot less time now dithering over grammar rules when I write on MetaFilter or Facebook. I write something that works in the moment and move on. Or make deliberate choices to break "rules" (or the bastard stepchild of "rules", Strunk & White style guidelines) for effect. When you're not publicly judging other people for their language, you don't have to spend nearly as much time ensuring your own is unimpeachable.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:00 AM on December 3 [4 favorites]


There’s still hope—a new express lane sign just went up at my local grocery store: 15 items or fewer.
posted by elphaba at 8:51 AM on December 4 [2 favorites]


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