Tuesday, September 13, 2011

For Sunday Scribblings

(Also submitted to Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday.)
“I” is for “Its”

I recently learned that I seem to be suffering from a terrible illness: Punctuational snobbery.
You see, years ago I learned – (I’m not sure how I learned it, but I learned it) – when to use “its” and when to use “it’s.”
So now whenever I see the writing of someone who is still in the dark its-wise, who obviously has no idea when “its” is right and “it’s” is wrong, I’m embarrassed to find that I sort of look down on that unfortunate character, as I would if at an elegant dinner party he was a guy who ate peas with a spoon.
After all, a person can be a fine, upstanding individual, a credit to his community, kind to his mother and good to his dad, and still not grasp the grammatical niceties. So smug punctuational snobs have no right to look down on him.
Somehow, however, even if only a tiny bit, we do. It’s – (there, I just used it) – it’s as though we want to whisper to him: “The fork, buddy, use the fork for peas.”
But you can get the thing right with ease, because the rule is easy:
You use an apostrophe with “it’s” when it is a contraction for “it is” or “it has.” Examples: “It’s a nice day” or “It’s been great getting to know you.”
Otherwise, run with an omission of the apostrophe and write “its”; you can’t go too far wrong.
Punctuation shouldn’t be all-important; there should be no punctuational snobbery, discrimination of a person because he/she is a bit -- punctuationally backward, shall we say? :-)
It’s – (that thing again) – it’s as though we look down on a person at a job interview because he shows up wearing socks of different colors. Shouldn’t really matter, after all.

You know the famous panda story, the one about the murderous gun-toting panda? Seems a wildlife book had described the panda as a “large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.” Just a misplaced comma, but it turned the peaceful panda into a wild gunslinger.

As you may be aware, Lynne Truss wrote a book about him, a book subtitled “the zero-tolerance approach to punctuation,” and it was a huge best-seller.
It’s – (there it is again) – it’s a fact that for a while she made punctuation popular. :-)


R. Burnett Baker said...

I'm with you. I may not be the best at punctuation, but one of my chalk board scratching peeves is the misuse of the words "fewer" and "less." DRIVES ME CRAZY. And the media is the worst offender of this. Watch for it. (it's irritating!)


Lisa said...

Add to that the words: effect vs affect; their vs there vs their; over vs more than....I could go on but my grammar Nazi roots are beginning to show.

Roger Owen Green said...

I hate to adnit it but it's true: I've given up correcting people over it's/its. It's too pervasive.

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Leslie: said...

Oh my gosh, you have me laughing out loud here and I'm not even showered and dressed yet! As a teacher, I'm a punctuation perfectionist! It's (there it is!) it's like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. I feel like screaming when I read high school students' essays and have to correct just this sort of thing! There are SO many more, too, like comma usage. I've even had kids come for comma lessons, believe it or not. Do the kids listen at school? Or are they so bored that they doze off? Maybe the younger teachers don't know punctuation rules, so they just let it slide. Great post and I love your comparison to eating peas with a knife! LOL

abcw team

Meryl said...

Great post. Great topic and I love "Eats Shoots and Leaves". I teach an online writing course and 'its' vs. 'it's' is a big issue. Again, great topic handled intelligently.

Kay L. Davies said...

I love Lynne Truss's book, and I admit to being a punctuational snob. On the other hand, don't you think it would be fun to be able (physically able, not just granted permission) to eat peas with a knife? Oh, the skill, the dexterity, the hand-eye coordination! (I say this because I'm now happy if I can find my face with my fork, never mind my mouth. Sigh.)
— K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Karen said...

I'm a terrible speller, and often ponder over punctuation. It hasn't made much of a difference in my life, I managed to get two university degrees...thank goodness for spell check! Now, if someone could come up with a punctuation check, I'd be all set!

Kathy said...

I, too, am a punctuation snob and the its/it's is a biggie in my book. Of course, I'm a spelling snob also, and my biggest peeve in that area is the number of people who incorrectly spell "definitely" as "defanitely" or some iteration thereof. "Eats Shoots and Leaves" is one of my favorite books!

Berowne said...

Kay L D: "Don't you think it would be fun to be able to eat peas with a knife?"
Ha. Or eat soup with a fork? :-)

Berowne said...

It's great to hear from Roger, Rick, Lisa, Leslie, Kay, Karen and Kathy -- my sincere thanks.

VioletSky said...

It's sheer laziness, it is.

Jo Bryant said...

I love Lynne's book - I love punctuation - I love this post. :) Oh and I am a punctuation snob, it's just who I am.

Terrie said...

Who knew there were so many of us lurking out there? Not their. Your (not you're) post was entertaining but helpful. I suppose the people who should be reading it won't. The rest of us can just sit back and revel in our snobbery. :) Love it! (did you catch a couple of my peeves?)

Tumblewords: said...

Eating peas with a knife is difficult. I try not to be a snob because as I age, I notice that many of my nevers are turning into sometimes.

Hildred and Charles said...

Great reminder post - although its and it's is well ingrained in my mind after soooo many years.

Trellissimo said...

What confuses folk is that 's USUALLY indicates a possessive, i.e. belonging to, EXCEPT when it indicates the contraction of "it is" So, perversely, the possessive of it is "its" without an apostrophe. Do you wonder kids give up on punctuation entirely?

Berowne said...

Trellissimo: "What confuses folks is that 's USUALLY indicates a possessive."
Good explanation, Trellissimo.

Berowne said...

Tumblewords: "I notice that many of my nevers are turning into sometimes."
A beautiful expression, Tumble. Thanks.

Berowne said...

Jo B: "I love Lynne's book - I love punctuation - I love this post."
I love this comment. :-)

Martha said...

I much prefer correct spelling and punctuation (there I go spelling it punctulation...), though I do have momentary lapses in my grammatical integrity.

helenmac said...

It's been fun, Berowne, I laughed out loud. Great explanation of the confusion from Trellissimo.

ABC Team

Reader Wil said...

It's amazing that native speakers, which I don't belong to, don't know the difference between its and it's. Its as a possessive pronoun is quite different from it's, which consists of a personal pronoun and an auxiliary verb ( to be) 0r to have. The other day I saw another mistake in this sentence : "mens clothes for sale". I thought that this genitive must be "men's". I saw this several times in various countries.Very good to be a punctuation perfectionist! Especially for teaching foreigners like me. So please do help me!!

Berowne said...

Reader Wil: "Especially for teaching foreigners like me. So please do help me!!"
You've got one terrific advantage; as you probably know your language, Dutch, is where ours came from.

springcycle said...

Love it! It's (lol) a great post!

Berowne said...

springcycle: "Love it! It's (lol) a great post!"
What a fine comment - thanks.

Berowne said...

Martha: "I do have momentary lapses in my grammatical integrity."
We must at all times, and at all costs, maintain our grammatical integrity! :-)

laurie kolp said...

It's a topic that's needed to be discussed for a long time, Berowne... and the lack of capitalization is also stunning. The poor panda had its name tarnished because of a mistake. I notice them all the time (it's the teacher in me, I guess).

Margaret said...

I loved this! My husband asked for "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" for Christmas one year. He got it much to our chagrin. And I do know the difference but for some reason my fast flying typing fingers always want to put it in... and I usually catch it a day or two later... But not soon enough for "punctuation snobs" (my husband) to point it out!

gautami tripathy said...

You nailed it!

spoken inside the mind

Berowne said...

Margaret: "I loved this!"
Just as much as I loved your comment. :-)

Altonian said...

I eat peas with a fork, but with the fork's concavity facing upwards. Trying off the convex back of a fork is sheer idiotic, snobbish, nonsense.
I agree with your punctuation comments by the way!

Francisca said...

Yeah, hate to admit it, but I'm a grammar cop too. Have driven more than a few of my employees crazy with my corrections. Lynne's book is a favorite of mine.

Anonymous said...

When I lived in NYC, every SINGLE take-out pizza place showed a fat, jolly pizza maker holding up a pie. The tag line was always:

I used to let it bug me, but coming back into the world of copy editing, it's once again time for me to revisit the question. Editing was a wonderful workout for my OCD, in which misspellings literally jump off the page at me.

Quick poem for you:
I eat my peas with honey
I've done it all my life
They do taste kind of funny, but
it keeps them on my knife!

Hee hee, Amy

The Gooseberry Garden said...

you write fabulous stories and poetry too.


What charming poetry you have posted here.

Invite you to share 1 to 3 poems with us, anything could fit the theme of object,

Hope to see you in.

Happy Writing..

Berowne said...

Always great to hear from my friend Amy -- thanks.

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