There was a tweet which came across my Twitter feed this week which said that hating on Halloween wasn't cool or egdy; which I would have answered by being staunchly neither cool nor edgy, before waving the green and gold banner of Strayanism in faux outrage. Faux outrage is a prime element of satire.
All of that would have been fun to write but then this tweet walked onto the stage and strutted under the presidium:
I wouldnt miss the apostrophe at all. Its fiddley and doesnt really add much to meaning. Context supplies its meaning in almost every case.— Brendan Daly (@bjd) October 30, 2018
Go about to full starboard! Change bearing from 09 to 27. Crank up the engines to maximum power. Were turning this bucket o' bolts around and going to steer this ship into the rocky waters of persnickety pedantry.
I shan't ask how someone could say this because the medium was obviously Twitter; nor shall I ask how someone could dare to do this because in the words of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club - Audere Est Facere - To dare is to do.
The claim though is valid. If as BJD states, that the meaning can be implied through context and that we don't need the apostrophe, then the claim can be tested and evaluated. To do this, I'm going to look at how we got here and whether or not the functions that this wee thing fulfills are in fact necessary. In order to look at how we got here though, it is useful to look at where we came from.
As far as I know, no ancient language and certainly not Greek or Roman, which is how our written language was informed, has punctuation to speak of. Old Greek and Roman texts are basically one giant wall of "too long; didn't read" text. It's only because some bright spark who thought about how language should be read or sung, that we have punctuation marks at all.
To that end we get the full stop, comma, exclamation point, question mark, colon, semi colon, quotation marks and to a lesser extent the interrobang, all marking of sentences and questions and clauses and quotes. It's all very delicious and rather obvious. The apostrophe though, lives inside words and has very specific rules and it is probably to this that BJD objects to.
The poor wee apostrophe is one of the most maligned of the punctuation marks. I don't really know when it appeared in the English Language but certainly by the time of Bacon and Shakespeare (which sounds like the name of a pub), it was being made to stand in for missing letters. French was already doing this all over the place with d' and l' and English found it particularly useful for the more barbarian parts of the country, as in Yorkshire's enduring t' and o'. Jack o' t' Lantern is particularly demonstrative for this time o' t' year. Ireland embraced it for use in people's names such as O'Reilly, O'Grady, O'Toole and O'Hara and there's nothing as Irish as Barack O'Bama. All of these indicate that someone is of a family; though I have no idea which county that the Bamas came from.
It's not surprising that when the English took to the seas after the passage of the famous maritime law, the Rule Britannia (Britannia rules the waves) that the forms of "nonstandard" English (ie. everything from outside of London) that these things start finding their way into print. It really starts to get ridiculous because: O' t' e'entide t' ne'er-do-wells rev't'd i' t' fo'c's'le. is an entirely valid sentence.
From indicating where bits of words are missing, we get to contractions. You're, aren't, isn't, y'all, won't, ain't... I shan't go into what these all mean but I think that it's fair to say that most people who are competent English language speakers and readers, should know why these exist. The problem is that we start to run into words like its, cant, and the yore, youre and your problem without the existence of the apostrophe.
Then there's the pesky problem of the possessive case. Consider this sentence:
The cat stole the boys dinner.
Depending on where the apostrophe falls, this can be interpreted in two ways.
The cat stole the boy's dinner - this sounds plausible and I have been in this situation where a cat has stolen something off of my plate.
The cat stole the boys' dinner - this sounds less plausible but it is still possible to imagine some big fat bruiser of a cat, who has engaged in grand larceny of dinner. We once had a dog that ate the 40 candy canes that were on the Christmas Tree. We came home to a dog who looked very sleepy and whose farts smelled like peppermint.
Also consider the sign which used to be at McDonald's Playland at Neutral Bay.
Giant Kid's Playground.
I had problems with this sign. I hardly ever go to McDonald's but on those exceptionally rare occasions that I've been there, it was the middle of the day and the playground was empty. Logic dictates that is because they were all at school but as someone who reads things way too literally, I imagined that the rest of the children were frightened away because they were warned about the Giant Kid who owned the playground. Somewhere in Neutral Bay there is a 15 foot tall toddler.
It should also be said that the possessive case when it comes to proper nouns, almost always drops the apostrophe given enough time. The signs for St James and St Marys stations do not have apostrophes and Chatswood which started out as Chattie's Wood should by rights be spelled Chat'swood except that would look stupid because everyone would ask what a swood was.
This is the really really scary thing... BJD is right. He wouldn't "miss the apostrophe at all" and that's a valid opinion and then he goes on to supply two sentences sans apostrophe which perfectly exemplify the assertion.
"Its fiddley and doesnt really add much to meaning. Context supplies its meaning in almost every case."
That is absolutely watertight. I can throw up objections but they're all piddly. Other languages like Japanese and Korean do not have plurals and it is absolutely true that context supplies its meaning in almost every case. All that I have left upon which I can argue any case, is the pure aesthetics of the thing; and that’s terrible.
The scariest thing that happened to me this Hallowe'en is that a thing got inside my brain and festered until it changed my mind. Jack O' T' Lantern ran inside my pumpkin head and lit a bonfire.