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January 14, 2003

I admire Michael Peach's blog, and my admiration was hardly diminished at all by the mistake he had at the top of it until Diane Patterson pointed it out. I noticed it too, but I was already starting to wonder whether "it's" as the possessive pronoun of "it" is a mistake, or perhaps something a bit more interesting than that.

Point one. Michael isn't the only person who perpetrates this mistake, or maybe "new usage". You see it all over the place. It's everywhere. (Ha ha.) And it's it is indeed sensible to make a distinction between "belonging to it" and "it is".

But if "Brian's Education Blog" has an apostrophe after Brian, why shouldn't "libertarian unschooling at it's best" be spelt that way as well, with an apostrophe after "it"?

What, in such circumstances, does it mean to say that "its" is correct, and "it's" (for belonging to it) is incorrect. Words mean what people say they mean.

The turning point would really come if some people started using "it's" in this way, on purpose, on the grounds that to them it makes more sense. But even if that doesn't happen, a collective failure to do things the "correct" way could be enough to result in a genuine change.

Take the rule that all written "sentences" (clutches of words between this full stop and the next one) have to have verbs in them. Nonsense. Not true. Stupid. Verbless sentences? Fine. No worries. Not a problem. It used to be that although you wouldn't be sent to prison for talking like that, you couldn't write like that. You just could not. Not done. Not the thing. But now, because of writers like me who say that this "rule" is dumb, the rule simply does not apply any more.

Or what about the (to me) utterly vile habit of just not using upper case letters even at the beginning of each sentence. I hate this. (I even originally wrote this paragraph in this all lower case manner, but then I hated it so much I changed it to regular again. Interestingly, Word For Windows agrees with me!) But if enough people decide they are going to do it, who else can stop them?

I'm starting to wonder if there might perhaps be something about our culture now which makes standardised spelling and standardised grammar more difficult to sustain and defend. I suspect that the printing press had a lot to do with the establishment of standard spellings and grammatical rules in the first place, and I further suspect that the gradual erosion of the printing press as the dominant literary machine, so to speak, by well , by this stuff, is making standard spellings and grammatical rules gradually harder to sustain.

All of which makes teaching that much more interesting.

There. I think that counts as a decent day's EdBlogging.

("EdBlogging"?!?! Just what kind of a neologism from hell is that? Have you no standards man? Are you some sort of damned barbarian? )

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:58 PM
Category: Grammar

Is "EdBlogging" the same as "Edu-blogging?" http://www.samizdata.net/blog/glossary_archives/002026.html#002026

Comment by: Daryl Cobranchi on January 15, 2003 02:16 AM

The idea of possesion is different than the idea of 'it is'-- having them spelled differently, or put together differently, however you want to call it, helps precise communication. Writing without capitals can concievably cause confusion, but easily sorted out. Verbless sentences, no prob. Take each case on its own merits. I guess it depends upon what one is trying to communicate, and how precise it needs to be, to be communicated.

Even if grammer and so on is not sustained in the general population, some will still care and carry on, I conjecture, in the interest of continuity, as well as keeping up with new usages.

Languages change. A person who reads New Testament Greek would not be able to read a tragedy written by Euripides, in Classic Greek. When's the last time any of us read _Beowolf_ in the original English?


Comment by: lars on January 15, 2003 03:43 AM
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