Apostrophetic Revelation (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the sloppy grammar of the people)

Apostrophetic Revelation (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the sloppy grammar of the people)

A confession: I’m one of those people who finds apostrophe abuse (and most other errors that seem able to be chalked up to laziness) borderline infuriating. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has been around me, or who frequently reads my blog, or who run the sandwich shop where I swipe away unnecessary apostrophes from their chalkboard tents.

Unum Verum Lingua

However, yesterday, as I read along with the lyrics insert for Aztec Camera‘s Knife LP, an errant “it’s” (as in, it should have been “its”) struck me. I’ve always associated apostrophe abuse with the 21st century, or at earliest with the late 90s. (Note the lack of apostrophe: 90s is plural, not possessive.) But Knife was released in 1984 so the error was all the more notable and it immediately got me thinking. After a brief moment of tsk tsk, I started to ponder information, the printed word, and the changes in communication over the past two decades.

Without getting too academic, the western written word (I can’t speak for grammar abuses in Chinese, Cyrillic, or other languages in which I am not versed) began its proliferation through the work of monk copyists, was limited to works in Latin, and overwhelmingly favored religious texts. The written word was specifically denied to the lower classes. In the 15th century came the printing press – thank you, Herr Gutenberg! – and change was afoot. It took a while but Latin was eventually overturned and books appeared in the languages of the people. You can piece together the rest, if you would be so kind. Yet there remained a somewhat elitist limitation when it came to the printed word. In a broad sense, in order to be published, you had to be a writer, or a journalist, or have access to a printing press, or whatever.

Flash forward to the social media age and suddenly written communication is everywhere. While it’s not unfair to bemoan the slackening of formality in the written word, it struck me yesterday that this sort of class-free revolution of communication was possibly such a fantastic thing that it might be more than a little bit snobbish to get too worked up about the feral proliferation of “you’re”s and “it’s”s and all that. It’s pretty wonderful – scary and oppressive at time, too, I admit – that almost literally everyone has access to a public forum. Of course it will be abused and of course there will be a lot of shit to muck up the works. But how boring would it be if everyone knew everything about everything?

I can’t say for sure if I will slacken in my fussy approach to grammar but I do have a new perspective. Power to the people. Right on.