Sunday, July 8, 2007

It's on its way

Whats on it's way? The grammar apocalypse, thats what. And if the egregious misuse of apostrophes in those sentences made you want to tear out your eyes, I want you on my side when the End comes.

Yes, as a linguist I've learned how prescriptivism is bogus and language is constantly evolving and that if we try to codify unbreakable rules we'll just end up like France, where the language spoken in the streets is practically unintelligible to anyone who learned "proper French" from a textbook. But all I'm asking (for now) is that we stop letting people graduate from high school until they can demonstrate the ability to correctly differentiate it's from its. This particular grammar faux pas (and il ne le faut absolument pas) has been driving me crazy lately. Once you start noticing it, it's everywhere. So here's the rule, people—repeat after me, memorize, tattoo this somewhere, whatever you need to do to remember:

If you could replace [it's] with [it is] in your sentence, then you need the apostrophe version (it's).
If your sentence stops making sense when you replace [its] with [it is], then you need the non-apostrophe version (its).

The former is a contraction meaning "it is", the latter indicates possession ("belonging to it"). Get it right or feel my wrath.

While we're at it, here are a few other gems you might want to avoid if you value the esteem of your grammar-sensitive friends:

  • Irregardless
    At the behest of Merriam-Webster, I'll refrain from saying that 'irregardless' is not actually a word. However, you definitely meant to use 'regardless'. Princeton says that 'irregardless' makes you sound like a joke.
  • Separating the wheat from the chafe
    Wheat and chafe? Sounds painful. While it's probably a good idea to separate wheat and chafing as often as possible, try "wheat and chaff" in your next metaphor.
  • Shot across the bough
    Unless you're shooting at squirrels (a bough is a tree branch), you probably meant "shot across the bow". It's a naval expression. Think pirates. (Though I don't know if pirates give warning shots, come to think of it.)
  • Bare with me, here!
    This one's my favourite. Are you seriously asking me to strip down? Together with you?? 'Cuz I'm a pretty patient person, and I'm willing to bear with a lot, but I only bare for a select few. (Yes, I know, damn those homophones.)

Please accept these suggestions as a token of my esteem for you, and my continued desire to read your writing without instinctively reaching for the Tipp-Ex.

5 comments:

Adam Lasnik said...

LOLLLLL!!!!1 thats the bear truth! your alright susan their are to many grate points in you're post its amazing!!!1

Nick said...

here's a post by a youmozzer:

http://www.seomoz.org/ugc/bad-grammar-on-a-blog-is-like-a-dirty-toilet-in-a-restaurant

Susan said...

Sweet; nice to know I'm in good company. I'll have to shake Ciaran's hand next time I see him. :)

Omless Wanderer said...

Adam, you beat me to my opportunity to be a dickhead today! Hilarious(the blog and the comment) but now I have to look elsewhere. :D

mb1875 said...

I think you have a problem with spelling rather than grammar. Your examples are mostly caused by people confusing the spelling of two words that are pronounced the same.