Friday, May 6, 2011

Getting its right

At the Daily Mail, apostrophes are causing the sort of problems that shouldn't afflict any newspaper, let alone nationals:
"Twitter is the social network phenomenon known for it's brevity, forcing users to compress their thoughts into just 140 characters."
Nice to see that the Mule is so hip to the modern world that it's already heard of Twitter and managed to say so with ten characters to spare. Finger on the pulse there. It should have had eleven characters to spare, because last week's article made the basic error of assuming that "its" as a possessive needs an apostrophe.

Most people know this, but many aren't sure exactly what the rule is.

Briefly, it's because pronouns take cases (like Latin and German nouns), whereas ordinary English nouns don't. So, the word "dog" doesn't change its form, regardless of what job it does in a sentence: it's the same whether it's "man bites dog" or "dog bites man". One only gets the sense of it from the word order. A noun adds an "s" for plurals and "apostrophe s" if it's a possessive, but that's it.

However, pronouns (I, thou, he, she, it) change in all sorts of ways: compare "I bit her" with "she bit me". If you were to write it as "me bit she", it would look very odd because word order is so important in English, but most of us would still work out who is doing the biting.

"Its" (belonging to or of "it") doesn't take an apostrophe because possessive pronouns don't take apostrophes. You wouldn't use an apostrophe in "his", "hers", "ours" or "theirs", which is why you don't use one with "its".

"It's" (with apostrophe), is an elision, short for "it is" or occasionally "it has" (as in "it's been raining").

Back to the sex
"Gotta tweet this"

That's enough of the grammar fetish. There's one more thing about this feeble little article, and probably something for the editor rather than the sub. It claims that the average relationship of Twitter users is two months shorter than those of non-Twitter users, implying that Twitter is bad for your relationships.

This falls into the category of studies that seem to show something but probably don't, using a 'post hoc, propter hoc' argument (i.e. assuming that if B follows A, A must have caused B). It could be true, of course, but an equally likely explanation is that people in relationships have less time for Twitter, or even that two groups of people chosen using random criteria will display different characteristics.You might select 100 people with blond(e) hair and 100 with dark hair, and find that one group watches more soap operas while the other group drinks more wine. Nothing links them, but a decent tabloid journalist could still knock up a story good enough for page 8.

I don't tweet during sex, and I've yet to read a tweet that reads as if it was composed by someone who was hard at it. OK, in a prolonged S&M session the sub (and I don't mean sub-editor this time) might have time to whip out (so to speak) his mobile while the dom goes to do the washing up. Otherwise, I can't think of many sex acts that would allow for tweeting, even using the smartest smartphone (although Apple is probably working on it).
"3rd hour on tower of power. Mistress on phone to her mum. Looks like I'm going to miss the snooker #tweetingmidshag"
Moral: studying Latin at school is good for you. And the schools that teach Latin probably give you a taste for S&M, though they won't say so in the prospectus. Cavet parens.

(By the way, I burgled the photo of Logan McCree from the amazing Coffee, Cake and Kink, which is a filthy but wonderful cake shop recently ejected from its [no apostrophe] premises near Covent Garden but now online. I hope they open a new shop soon.)

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