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Lynne Truss has a new article in the Telegraph:

quote:
This is not a fight for English – English can look after itself. What I lament and resist is the overnight erosion of respect for the 500-year ascendancy of print, and if it's a tall order to expect children to take up such a high-minded cause, all I can say is that there are quite a number of literate children out there who care quite a lot already.


In saying it's not a "fight for English", I guess she's trying to dismiss David Crystal by implying his arguments aren't relevant. But "overnight erosion of respect for the 500-year ascendancy of print"? Talk about the Recency Illusion. Has she forgotten how the uses for the apostrophe have always been changing, and how we've been confused about it for quite a while?
 
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Has she forgotten how the uses for the apostrophe have always been changing, and how we've been confused about it for quite a while?

No, because she never knew. The history of Grammatohooligans only goes back as far as grammar school when Miss Blooknooz scarred them for life by dangling a participle in front of their eyes. But yours was a rhetorical question, right?


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Partly rhetorical. She does discuss the history of English punctuation in her book, but perhaps it was mere rhetoric. I seem to remember that she talked about the different uses of the apostrophe, but it has been a while since I read it - and I'm not reading it again to check.
 
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I don't understand that quote that "What I lament and resist is the overnight erosion of respect for the 500-year ascendancy of print". Her article is otherwise solely about the use of the apostrophe. Ignoring the fact that apostrophes have been used regularly in English for less than 500 years, they are used in handwriting as well as print. In any case, why does she lament this "overnight" erosion?


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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why does she lament this "overnight" erosion?

Because she is either (1) ignorant of the facts you've mentioned, or (2) ignoring them for the sake of her rant.


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Whereas the use of the apostrophe, like the use of other grammatical devices, has changed over the years and is still changing, I contend that it is good practice to adhere to the standards that are presently in place.

Grammarians do not, in 2007, consider it correct to use apostrophes in plurals or to omit them from possessives and contractions. I am sure that, eventually, the apostrophe usage wheel will turn full circle and the apostrophised plural will once again be the norm. But until it does I'm with Lyn Truss.

Use the poor thing properly.


Richard English
 
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I have no problem following conventions. As a writer I try to, but mistakes happen, and, as pointed out in this thread, that is why good editors and proofreaders are important. I do have a problem with self-righteous journalists who try to convince me that these conventions came from God's mouth to their ears. A convention is just that: an agreement between the users of a language on how to encode some extra bit of information that would otherwise not be there and might cause some ambiguity. As we have discussed in the past, the conventions of apostrophe usage have changed within most of our lifetimes. I know they have for me, e.g., how to apostrophize possessives of nouns that end in -s. If somebody wanted to rant about the absurdity or the logical inconsistencies of our spelling system, and they chose to write about it without historical inaccuracies or distortions, either through ignorance or for putative rhetorical value, I would buy that book, read it, and most probably enjoy it. Probably the main confusion over when and where to put an apostrophe is this very badly designed conventions. For example, the possessive of a singular takes a -'s, except if it's a personal pronoun, except if that pronoun is one.


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Grammarians do not, in 2007, consider it correct to use apostrophes in plurals or to omit them from possessives and contractions.

And as I've said before, some authorities describe the use of apostrophes in some kinds of plurals as standard. The standard is not monolithic; there is variation.

quote:
There was formerly a respectable tradition (17-19c) of using the apostrophe for noun plurals, especially in loanwords ending in a vowel (as in We do confess Errata's, Leonard Lichfield, 1641, and Comma's are used, Philip Luckcombe, 1771) and in the consonants s, z, ch, sh, (as in waltz's and cotillions, Washington Irving, 1804). Although this practice is rare in 20c standard usage, the apostrophe of plurality continues in at least five areas: (1) with abbreviations such as V.I.P.'s or VIP's, although such forms as VIPs are now widespread. (2) With letters of the alphabet, as in His i's are just like his a's and Dot your i's and cross your t's. In the phrase do's and don'ts, the apostrophe of plurality occurs in the first word but not the second, which has the apostrophe of omission: by and large, the use of two apostrophes close together (as in don't's) is avoided. (3) In decade dates, such as the 1980's, although such apostrophe-free forms as the 1980s are widespread, as are such truncations as the '80s, the form the '80's being unlikely. (4) In family names, especially if they end in -s, as in keeping up with the Jones's, as opposed to the Joneses, a form that is also common. (5) in the non-standard ('illiterate') use often called in BrE the greengrocer's apostrophe, as in apple's 55p per lb and We sell the original shepherds pie's (notice in a shop window, Canterbury, England).

- The Oxford Companion to the English Language page 75

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Here is an online source (1998) for Goofy's quote.

Robert Burchfield, editor of the four-volume Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, said "The apostrophe was only a moderately successful device, and it is probably coming to the end of its usefulness, certainly for forming plurals and marking possession. It may only be retained for contractions." (last entry on page 109)

Here 's a discussion we had about the apostrophe nearly five years ago. It starts out talking about extortion and blackmail, but quickly turns to the apostrophe.

edited Oct.28, 2007 to changed it's to its

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"The apostrophe was only a moderately successful device, and it is probably coming to the end of it's usefulness, certainly for forming plurals and marking possession. It may only be retained for contractions."

Actually he wrote:

"The apostrophe was only a moderately successful device, and it is probably coming to the end of its usefulness, certainly for forming plurals and marking possession. It may only be retained for contractions."


Richard English
 
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Oh, how embarrassing! You're right, Richard. I'll go back and change my mistake.
 
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I'll go back and change my mistake.

Pretty much proves my point. It's a stupid convention.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Pretty much proves my point. It's a stupid convention.

I don't know as though it proves that the convention is stupid - only that it's a convention. There are plenty of conventions that one could cite that are far more pointless.


Richard English
 
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I don't know as though it proves that the convention is stupid - only that it's a convention. There are plenty of conventions that one could cite that are far more pointless.

What's the point of using an apostrophe for marking the possessive except in personal pronouns other than one?


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As I understood it, the reason was that personal possessive pronouns are not formed directly from their pronouns (they are unique words) and do not therefore need an apostrophe to denote their status.

It's his, not "he's"; hers, not she's". The exception is "one's" because that is not a special word and it is therefore formed in the conventional fashion by using apostrophe s.


Richard English
 
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Except for the possessive its which is newer than the other pronouns, it having replaced his as the traditional possessive of it in the 16th century or so. As opposed to the others, its is clearly formed regularly as it + [/i]s[/i]. Why no apostrophe? It doesn't make sense.


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I agree it makes more sense for "it" to form its possessive regularly. I can only assume that the convention of omitting the apostrophe has come about to maintain conformity with other pronouns and to avoid confusion with the word "it's". I am not suggesting that this convention will never be changed; I am simply stating, as I have previously stated, that whilst conventions exist and are agreed by the majority it is better that they be adhered to.

There are, as I have also suggested, many other conventions that have far less raison d'etre.


Richard English
 
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Again, as I have stated: I have no problem with following conventions. I am not suggesting that the convention be changed. I have a problem when somebody tells me that an anomaly exists for a reason and then tries to construct a reason. Compare man's with man's. Which is the possessive singular form and which the contraction of man + is? You cannot tell by looking at the word in isolation. You can only tell by looking at the word in context. The other pronouns do not form their possessives, or plurals for that matter, regularly. Only its and one's do, except that in the formers case the apostrophe is not used, while in the latter case it is. It is a pointless and stupid convention!


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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I have a problem when somebody tells me that an anomaly exists for a reason and then tries to construct a reason.

I don't think I've done that, have I?

quote:
It is a pointless and stupid convention!


As I said there are many others, just as pointless and just as stupid. But we follow them because they are established and agreed conventions. I believe that is the best course since humanity exists, generally peacefully, by agreeing and following conventions.


Richard English
 
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May I suggest that conventions are not stupid, but because of the conventions they agree to abide by, people sometimes appear to be.

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May I suggest that conventions are not stupid, but because of the conventions they agree to abide by, people sometimes appear to be.

Yes, that is another reason why it is a stupid and pointless convention.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Richard English:
quote:
I have a problem when somebody tells me that an anomaly exists for a reason and then tries to construct a reason.

I don't think I've done that, have I?


Yeah, I think you did.

I got no problem with punctuation conventions either, if anyone was wondering. But I do think it's possible for the convention to encompass two different forms, for instance VIPs and VIP's, or Joneses and Jones's . Whichever of these Truss thinks is right, some other "grammarian" is going to think is wrong. I don't think that punctuation is a place for zero tolerance.
 
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Yes, I agree with you, Goofy. It's that zero tolerance attitude that can be annoying, and of course it goes way beyond apostrophes. I was in a workshop today with one of Bob's limericks, and the workshopper wanted additional commas in these lines:

Well I'm the right man
And I'll help if I can.

He wanted them after "well" and after "man." The workshopper says, "If two complete thoughts are separated by "and," a comma should precede..." See, that's the thing. People think there are these black and white rules, and that's not the case. Bob sweetly responds that it would be an "unusual British writer who would use a comma there." However, it's a style decision. Many Americans wouldn't use a comma there, as well. To say "should" just irritates me.

Sorry to get off the comma discussion, but it's related. Richard, I think you are less of a stickler for commas than you are for apostrophes. I guess we're all sticklers about something, whether it's about uses of words, style of writing or rules of grammar.

[Changed "comments" to "commas;" Bob made me aware of the mistake with his sic below.]

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Yeah, I think you did.

The explanation I gave for the non-apostrophisation of pronouns, I thought I made clear, was not mine and it was a suggestion, no more.


Richard English
 
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It is a convention that, in the USA, people drive on the right. I happen to think that's a pretty stupid convention - but we'd be in trouble if we didn't all abide by it when we are driving in the USA, or one of the other 66% of countries where right hand driving is the rule of the road. And we'd all be in trouble if we didn't abide by the opposite rule when driving in the UK or any one of the 33% of the world that sticks to it.

Conventions do not need to be rational, only accepted.


Richard English
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Richard English:
...I happen to think that's a pretty stupid convention... 66% of countries where right hand driving is the rule of the road.


It's interesting that you consider an entirely arbitrary convention to be pretty stupid when 2/3 of the world follow it.
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
and the workshopper wanted additional comments (sic) in these lines:

Well I'm the right man
And I'll help if I can.

He wanted them after "well" and after "man." The workshopper says, "If two complete thoughts are separated by "and," a comma should precede..."


To be fair to Kevin (the workshopper in question) he did immediately accept what I said and RFA the limerick anyway. I want to be fair to him because he's workshopped about thirty of my limericks in the last few days and the only thing we have disagreed on (several times in fact) is the placement of commas*. He must be sick of me quoting Oscar Wilde's comment on the subject at him by now.

Your general point is well taken though as it is the insistence that conventions, especially style conventions, are absolute rather than arbitrary that sometimes gets annoying.

*Actually, now that I think about it we have also disagreed on whether some things are phrasal verbs or simple verbs followed by adverbial qualifiers.
 
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It's interesting that you consider an entirely arbitrary convention to be pretty stupid when 2/3 of the world follow it.

Because a majority follow a convention that doesn't mean the convention is necessarily the best of its kind - or even correct.

Most of the world, in the days of horse-drawn vehicles, kept to the left and there were very good reasons for this. The move to the left has been driven by reasons of practicality rather than efficiency and one of the drivers was the USA's superiority in car manufacture in the early part of the last century. Wikipedia has a good and well-referenced article here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driving_on_the_left_or_right

I am sure we could all cite even more arbitrary conventions that are followed simply because they are conventions and for no other reason.


Richard English
 
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OK, let's see if I get how this works. (1) Richard finds a totally arbitrary convention to be stupid, but says we must follow it or else. No problem there. (2) I say that the non-apostrophized its (possessive) is not only arbitrary, it breaks the forming a possessive rule which is in place everywhere else in the language. Not only was it arbitrarily chosen, but it breaks the rules (the other conventions. To make his analogy more convincing it would be like a totally arbitrary right-hand drive convention being the law in Partridge Green, West Sussex, but the left-hand drive convention everywhere else in the UK. Now that would be quite the disaster. And that's why the non-apostrophization of its convention is stupid.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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While I agree with the general principle you're stating zm I don't agree with the specific example of its. I think it comes from false analogy.

its is not analogous to the formation of a possessive with an apostrophe when we are talking about nouns.

It is directly analogous to my, your, his, her, our, their if it is being used as what used to be known in my day as a "possessive adjective" (i.e followed by a noun) and to mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs if it is what used to be called a possessive pronoun (i.e. NOT followed by a noun).

It isn't breaking any rule, It is applying exactly the same rule that all the others apply. None of them have an apostrophe and many of them would have no place to put one - you'r? mi'ne?)

Now I can agree that one's breaks the rule.
 
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The pronoun it and one form their possessives regularly by adding -s. The other pronouns have suppletive forms which go back to Old English (and beyond). I (my, mine) doesn't have a separate rule for forming their possessives. Like man ~ men or ox ~ oxen, it's simply a matter of memorizing the anomalous forms. It would make the convention more reasonable if it and one both used -'s. Few would make mistakes then through confusion. (The other pronouns are different from it and one in that they have two possessive forms: one used in regular qualification my book and the other as a predicate, the book is mine. It and one don't have separate forms and cannot be used in the second kind of construction.)


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Now I can agree that one's breaks the rule.
Either "one's" does, or "its" does, I reckon. Both "one" and "it" do not have possessive pronoun forms (unlike he/his and you/your). In the case of "one" the word is made possessive using the rule for words that are not pronouns; in the case of "it" the word is made possessive according to the rule for pronouns. One or the other breaks the "rules".

But then that's common enough for conventions, as I have tried to say.


Richard English
 
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Perhaps, but I'm not convinced. You could argue that it would make matters simpler to get rid of all the anomalous forms.

This is I's book.
That's you's car.
I don't agree with he's opinion.

Indeed some street argots use exactly those forms.

Not all the other pronouns have two forms anyway -his doesn't although I suppose you might argue that it has two forms which happen by chance to be exactly the same. As I see it, its may be a later formation but it is formed in a way that is completely analogous to the rest of the set of words doing a similar job.

None of which in any way goes against the more general points about arbitrary conventions where I agree with you completely.


NOTE: This post was responding to zm, Richard's post jumped in between before I hit send.
 
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You could argue that it would make matters simpler to get rid of all the anomalous forms.

Yes, but that is not what I'm arguing. There is no real difference between writing (1) the baby dropped its cup and (2) *the baby dropped it's cup, though by convention (2) is incorrect. The pronunciation and the form are the same in both cases, except in the latter case for the apostrophe. It's not the same as using putative regularized forms, such as in (4): (3) my book is red versus *I's book is red.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Because a majority follow a convention that doesn't mean the convention is necessarily the best of its kind - or even correct.
As Leonard Pitts often says, I just hate to pick a nit with you. However, that is interesting coming from you, Richard. I can't think of all the situations where you've complained because the U.S. differs from the rest of the world (from voltage to dates, and so on). I agree with you here, and I will keep your comment in mind for future posts. Wink

Bob, you make a good point. Yet, I think of it in a different way. While you say hers, yours, ours and theirs don't have apostrophes, so why should its...perhaps they should have one. Since his and mine are different types of words, of course they shouldn't. Just sitting here pondering...
 
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The majority of lay people in the USA write their dates in the numerical format month-date-year. That is their convention, but the fact that they use it makes it neither the best not the correct (by international agreement) way to express dates.

That seems to confirm, not refute, my suggestion.


Richard English
 
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That example, in your mind, could refute it. However, remember, I am not just talking about dates here. That was one example of many.

Anyway, I completely agree with your statement, so we don't differ at all.
 
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That was one example of many.

I would be interested in learning of others. Voltages I have already spoken of: in most of North America, pressures of 110 volts are used; in most of the rest of the world, pressures are around double that. These are conventions established over the years and neither is 100% right or 100% wrong.

The lower the voltage the less the risk of death by electric shock, but the higher the risk of overheating in conductors and the greater the power transmission losses - in other words, lower voltages are generally less efficient.

The higher the voltage the more efficient the transmission but more care needs to be taken with protective systems to avoid shock. The IEE (now he Institution of Engineering and Technology [IET]) regulations (the world's first, dating back to around 1880) are the world's most stringent and the protection afforded to installations following the latest IET regulations is of a very high order indeed (further information here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrical_wiring_(UK)).

If lower pressures were better in every way, then we would all be using 12 volt circuits (as we do on cars) for all purposes.

Most of the world believes that 220-240 volts is the best compromise between safety and efficiency; North America disagrees and there are thus two different conventions - as there are two for the rules of the road.

So long as we know the convention and adhere to it then all is well.


Richard English
 
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We were discussing whether the absence of an apostrophe in the third person neuter singular personal pronoun in its possessive form in English was a stupid convention or not. It still is. You have not convinced me otherwise by deflecting the argument into voltages, driving on the left, or beer. Not adhering to a stupid convention does not lead to death, no matter how dire a situation you or Ms Truss thinks it is. As I have said in the past: I shall abide by the convention so long as it exists, but that does not make the convention not stupid. It's really quite simple.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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As I have said in the past: I shall abide by the convention so long as it exists, but that does not make the convention not stupid.

I am sure I have never tried to suggest that the convention is other than stupid. I have made the point, many times, that adherence to conventions says nothing about the cleverness or stupidity, correctness or incorrectness, or indeed anything else about the convention. My point has always been that, while conventions exist, I believe they are best adhered to, regardless of the severity, or otherwise, of the consequences of non-adherance.

And it was not I who brought up the topic of electrical voltages.


Richard English
 
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It was I who said the convention was stupid. It was you who started the waffling on the necessity of conventions being followed, etc. Just admit it's a stupid convention, and we can let this matter rest.


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The only reason why I have not agreed that it is a stupid convention is because, if the formation of "its" is stupid, then the formation of "one's" is not - and vice versa.

As I wrote on 29 October, one or the other is incorrect (stupid, if you will) but to date I have seen no agreement about which is which.


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I explained before (vide supra) why its possessive is a stupid convention and one's is not.


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I am inclined to agree with Bob on this one.
quote:
Perhaps, but I'm not convinced. You could argue that it would make matters simpler to get rid of all the anomalous forms.


Richard English
 
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I'm sorry but I think you and Bob are wrong on this one, and that I am right.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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I'm sorry but I think you and Bob are wrong on this one, and that I am right.

I will quote only Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing as S G. Tallentyre: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."


Richard English
 
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Yawning here. This broad world of ours has many customs/conventions/usages/practices that don't make particular sense. Now you can ask lots of questions about each of them. For example:
  • How did it arise? (Arbitrarily, for no reason? for foolish reasons? for reasons that, with time and change, are no longer important or are superseded by more important concerns?)
  • What's the harm? (Very minor -- even mere aesthetic offense to the sensibilities of those who are sensitive to such things? or financially costly? or even the potential for serious disaster?)
  • How easily could it be changed, if we had the will? (Relatively cost-free? or requiring substantial investment in infrastructure, such as changing the roadways?)
  • Whose will is needed to change it? (A few people -- e.g., those who voted that Pluto is not a "planet"? or many? or of a government?)
All interesting questions, and ones that we could debate for any particular custom if we wished. But as to me personally, the custom/practice of it's/his/hers/one's does not bother me much, or seem worth much debate or heat.
 
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I will quote only Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing as S G. Tallentyre: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Excellent, I accept that.


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Yawning here.

Yes, I find some things that pass for the norm here tiresome also, but I just ignore those things.

But as to me personally, the custom/practice of it's/his/hers/one's does not bother me much, or seem worth much debate or heat.

Nor does it bother me, shufitz. I simply stated that it was a stupid convention, which it is.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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We were discussing whether the absence of an apostrophe in the third person neuter singular personal pronoun in its possessive form in English was a stupid convention or not. It still is. You have not convinced me otherwise by deflecting the argument into voltages, driving on the left, or beer.
and
quote:
And it was not I who brought up the topic of electrical voltages.
Ahhh...25 lashes with the wet noodle...it was I who brought up voltages and who really got us off track in the first place in this thread. I am sorry.

I guess I don't find this thread as tiresome as my husband and zmj do, but there are plenty of threads to go around, aren't there? I tend to be a real culprit for taking threads off kilter. Sometimes it takes us into beautiful places; other times not so much. Again I apologize to those of you whom I irritated.

As long as we're talking about conventions that "are best adhered to," Richard, surely there is a convention for not starting a sentence with a conjunct...I'd better not go there. Wink

And for the record, I consider the it's convention a stupid one, as well. I also think people, communities, societies, etc., should pick and choose their conventions. Just because it's a convention, doesn't mean, to me, that it's best adhered to. [There I go, ending a sentence with a preposition. Darned convention!]
 
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