SUSIE DENT dares to say when it comes to words we don’t have to follow the letter of the law
English punctuation goes for the dog. Or maybe I mean he’s already gone to the dogs â. . .
Forgive my apostrophes. Readers who care about these things will know that I must say punctuation goes to dogs. Four letters and not an apostrophe in sight.
If I were to talk about a dog’s dinner, I would use an apostrophe to indicate that the dinner belongs to the dog. It’s a bit of a minefield, which is why perhaps, according to a Lancaster University report this week, the apostrophe might go away altogether.
The trend is largely down to social media, where speed and space are everything. Why say “you are” when you can type “you” or, even worse, “your”? And why bother with the complicated rules of possessive apostrophes, which differentiate singular and plural nouns, when you can just ignore them altogether?
Forgive my apostrophes. Readers who care about these things will know that I must say punctuation goes to dogs. Four letters and not an apostrophe in sight, writes Susie Dent
Are they elephant trunks, elephant trunks or elephant trunks? Too late, you have already pressed ‘send’. (The answer, if you need it, is the first.) We all speak with our fingers, hammering messages at high speed on our touchscreens, reproducing the informality of speech.
Researchers examined a database of 100 million words from the past 30 years, and its results clearly show how our language is changing. He found, for example, an 8% decrease in the use of an apostrophe after a âplural possessiveâ noun compared to the early 1990s.
It’s a tough rule to master, but it can make a serious difference, as a real estate agent named Anthony Zadravic in Australia discovered the hard way last month. Mr Zadravic posted a sarcastic comment on Facebook, accusing a former employer of failing to pay him amounts owed under a retirement agreement.
“Sell multi-million dollar homes in Pearl Beach but cannot pay employee pensions,” wrote a disgruntled Mr. Zadravic. Her former boss filed a libel complaint because of the missing apostrophe in the word “employees”.
Research has found, for example, an 8 percent decrease in the use of an apostrophe after a “possessive plural” noun compared to the early 1990s. Pictured: misuse of an apostrophe on a sign toilet
Mr. Zadravic was speaking only of himself, so he should have put an apostrophe before the letter âsâ – âhis employee’s retirement pensionâ.
Committing the case to trial, the judge noted: âThe difficulty for the plaintiff is the use of the word ’employees’ in the plural. Failure to pay an employee’s retirement pension can be viewed as unhappy; not paying some or all of them seems deliberate.
If the trial against Mr Zadravic, the judge added, it could cost him more than $ 180,000 (Â£ 98,500). It’s a bit expensive from the missing punctuation.
Some people, on the other hand, prefer extra punctuation. They tend to get a little crazy !!!!! The exuberance of the exclamation mark is spreading everywhere – and not everyone is a fan.
“All those exclamation marks, you notice?” Five? A sure sign of someone wearing their underpants on their head, âmused author Terry Pratchett, who wasn’t a fan of the most exciting member of the punctuation set.
And if the apostrophes have trouble, you can forget about the colon and semicolon. Pictured: Overused apostrophes on a take-out sign
Still, many of us, it seems, really enjoy exposing our linguistic underwear.
And if the apostrophes have trouble, you can forget about the colon and semicolon. Playwright Ben Jonson, arguably Britain’s greatest punctuation, loved the colon so much that he inserted one between his first and last name in his signature, “Ben: Jonson”, but few would do. proof of such a commitment now.
The colon is often left unused – instead, we all turn to the dash. Traditionally seen as a lazy jack-of-all-trades, the dash is certainly quick.
It requires the smallest stretch of fingers on our touchscreen or keyboard and crucially avoids scratching the head on the finer points of punctuation.
We all literally become nonsense. As for the semicolons, they are almost at the door. Personally, I love them, almost as much as a good adverb, and I use them everywhere. But I’m a nerd who instinctively finds them stylish.
Few would put one in a WhatsApp message, where it would surely pop out like a sore thumb, or an inadvertent eggplant emoji.
We all literally become nonsense. As for the semicolons, they are almost at the door. Pictured: Unnecessary apostrophes on a cafe sign
Recently, even the end point has been criticized. Young people, they say, find it aggressive.
If this idea makes you sniffle, you are not alone. I also found it absurd that a single and surely necessary point could inspire such aversion.
But when I looked more closely at the reasons for this, I began to understand. No one (I hope) is saying that we can do without the point altogether. But if you were to tell a friend that you won the lottery, you might expect an âUnbelievableâ with no punctuation in return – or, better yet, an âUnbelievable!â
What wouldn’t sound so sincere is the flat answer, âAmazing. In this case, the point surely suggests a touch of envy, even resentment, not genuine pleasure in a friend’s good fortune and happiness.
Either way, it’s unlikely that a friend of yours will send you a congratulation with a beautiful handwriting on copper.
As Dr Vaclav Brezina of Lancaster University said, releasing his report: “We text or text friends and colleagues and get an immediate response, but we might have a hard time remembering the last time we wrote a letter. “
The way we communicate is constantly changing, and that means there will always be headlines lamenting that, once again, the golden age of English is dead. It is far from new. In the 18th century, Jonathan Swift worried about the future of English, complaining that âour language is extremely imperfect; that its daily improvements are in no way proportional to its daily corruption.
Among his damning observations on the “abuses and absurdities” of English is that “most of the books we see these days are full of these mutilations and abbreviations.” Centuries later, these abbreviations have become a part of everyday conversation.
Are these latest findings further proof that English is on a very slippery slope? Can the apostrophe resist the current wave of indifference?
I like to think of questions like these as âfoufarawsâ – a great fuss or fuss about something we don’t have to worry about as much.
Are these latest findings further proof that English is on a very slippery slope? Can the apostrophe resist the current wave of indifference? Pictured: A road sign in London with a mysterious apostrophe
We have always feared new technologies. When the telegram arrived, some saw it as the death knell for expressive language. The Victorians were also concerned that the postcard would kill good handwriting. It was exactly the same at the dawn of the internet, with predictions that the language would become bland and monosyllabic.
None of these fears materialized. Like all other aspects of English, punctuation simply adapts to our needs.
It’s not the rules and regulations of dusty Latin grammars that matter, but the beauty and clarity of our communication.
It’s not the rules and regulations of dusty Latin grammars that matter, but the beauty and clarity of our communication
I guess few of us would leave out an apostrophe when writing to our child’s principal. On the other hand, if we choose to have a windfall exclamation mark in a text message to our friends, it is up to us.
We’ve always been remarkably good at changing code, and language is a perfect example. As for the big question, “Will English ever recover?” – the answer must be yes. Language has always evolved as society itself evolves.
We should learn the rules, of course, but that doesn’t mean we can’t break them with friends.
If you want to wear your briefs on your head, don’t hesitate. Don’t do it too often in public.