Archive for January 13th, 2012
As I worked to write a long email on my iPhone, I found myself skipping some apostrophes because the reader certainly would understand what I was trying to communicate. This made me wonder why we users of English don’t organize and officially eliminate apostrophes in many contractions. How about writing “dont” instead of “don’t”? How about “cant” instead of “can’t” (no one will confuse it with the obscure noun or little-used noun, verb and adjective versions of “cant.” Even without an apostrophe, we would instantly know what “doesnt” and “wasnt” mean. Arguments can even be made to eliminate apostrophes in possessives (we’ve actually done that in pronoun possessives (his, her, their, its). The apostrophe, as used in contractions, was originally implemented to warn us that something is missing. If it’s already apparent what’s missing, though, the apostrophe (at least in many cases) seems redundant.
I checked to see whether anyone else has proposed to do away with many of our apostrophes and I found this article by Richard Nordquist, who offers many resources, including a link to the aptly named Apostrophe Protection Society.
I know that what I propose will never happen. That is the power of path dependency. But perhaps it is already happening unofficially, due to the way many of us are taking shortcuts on our smartphones. I know that Im not the only one who doesnt like digging out those little apostrophes and I wont be inclined to change my ways.
Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Times, asked his readers whether the news reporters should be “truth vigilantes”:
“I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”
Brisbane (who, as public editor, speaks only for himself, not the Times) referred to two recent stories: the claim that Clarence Thomas had “misunderstood” a financial reporting form when he left out key information, and Mitt Romney’s assertion that President Obama gives speeches “apologising” for America. Brisbane asked whether news reporters should have the freedom to investigate and respond to those comments.
The reaction from readers was swift, voluminous, negative and incredulous.
“Is this a joke? THIS IS YOUR JOB.”
“If the purpose of the NYT is to be an inoffensive container for ad copy, then by all means continue to do nothing more than paraphrase those press releases.”
“I hope you can help me, Mr Brisbane, because I’m an editor, currently unemployed: is fecklessness now a job requirement?”
Name the largest city in North America prior to 1790.
I’m betting that you named one of the biggest cities list on this result from the 1790 U.S. census, which indicates that New York only had 33,000 people and Boston only had 18,000 people.
You probably didn’t mention the settlement of Cahokia, Illinois, located just east of St. Louis, Missouri. An article titled “America’s Lost City” in the December 25, 2011 issue of Science indicates that Cahokia was a “large urban complex,” perhaps home to as many as 50,000 people. Cahokia was “in its heyday” in the 12th century, and it was “by far the largest concentration of people north of Mexico until the late 18th century.” Although this excellent article in Science is available online only to subscribers, you can access this recent article on Cahokia by National Geographic.