Archive for October 2006
I saw this wonderful headline this morning from the Seattle P-I. “No Offense: This World Series has been tough to watch.”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: MLB
Nobody is hitting and it is brutal to watch. I cannot believe these are the two best teams in baseball.
Through three games neither team is hitting above .200.
The article is about how both the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals who are facing each other in a best-of-seven World Series aren’t hitting enough to make these games exciting.
The wordplay in the headline shows the difference in how stressing a syllable can change the meaning of a word. In the context of the headline OF-fense means one side going on the attack against another. Of-FENSE means one is hurting the feelings of another. Just in this case, the Seattle P-I writer Chris Ruddick means both the Tigers and the Cardinals batters have no OF-fense in their batting lineup, and fans shouldn’t take of-FENSE that not many people are interested in watching these boring games.
This is for all you people who, in the course of your lifetime, have had or will have the opportunity to verbally spell out a website address to someone – you know, with all the https and the slashes and whatnot.
For the record, here’s what’s up, yo.
A backslash points from NW to SE. It leans “back” toward what you just typed, assuming the bottom of the text is your frame of reference. It’s also by far the less common of the two types of slashes (in plain old English, anyway; computer languages may differ in this regard.)
A slash is its perpendicular, pointing from NE to SW. It points in a forward direction from the text you’re writing, again assuming you’re going from the bottom here. It’s more common than a backslash in written language, and it’s NOT called a forward slash; slash and slash alone does the trick. It’s the one used in either/or situations, in fractions, in between lines of prose or song, and, most importantly for the purposes of this gripe, in internet addresses.
To provide perhaps a lamer, less straightforward way to remember the two, remember the phrase slashdot (the name of the popular “news for nerds” site, and the icon of which I’ve made the title of this post). Pretend the bottom of the appropriate slash is the center of a clock, the slash itself being the minute hand and the imaginary line between the slash and the dot being the hour hand. In the case of both the slash and the backslash, the time reads close to 3 o’clock. However, with the backslash, it’s about 5 minutes before 3 (\.), having gone “back” in time, while with a slash, it’s roughly 3:05 (/.), or relatively “forward” in time with respect to 3 o’clock on the dot.
Hmm, no one’s going to remember that one. You could just remember that /.=slashdot and not backslashdot. Anyone else have a useful mnemonic?
I seem to have an obsession with apostrophes. It seems that so many people know that apostrophes exist, but cannot quite remember which way they work, so leave them out altogether, or put them in whenever they think they might belong.
So glad you started with posessions, nosugerfneb – I’ve been composing this post over about three extremely hectic weeks, so it’s as well that you got started. I won’t change this, however, because it looks at the whole issue in a different light…..
The one that has me laughing, (not hurling! but maybe laughing hysterically (?)) is the local fruit shop advertising apple’s for $6.95 a kilo. I thought this was just me, but see below, it seems to be an age old problem.
Anyway, I put together my thoughts and a few researched clarifications.
Apostrophes are used for three purposes
To show possession
e.g. the boy’s football = the football of the boy
This is a useful exercise to use to see if possession is involved – see if you can turn the words into a phrase, with the word “of” in it. (until I tried it with the apples! … Apple’s $6.50 a kilo – and the phrase would be “$6.50 a kilo of the apples”) My suggestion is that if the thing after the s belongs to thing before the s, then use a possessive apostrophe
Exceptions occur if the thing that is owned is an object, a piece of furniture or a building
e.g. the church steeple and not the church’s steeple
the chair leg and not the chair’s leg
the apple core and not the apple’s core
And on the subject of apples, my example was a plural, so if the apples owned something, the apostrophe needed to go after the s.
The colour of the apples would be “the apples’ colour”.
The horses’ manes
The boys’ footballs
If the plural had been a word that does not end in s, then we would put the apostrophe before the s
e.g. the children’s bus
and there are some more excellent examples at the post I mentioned earlier
If the word ends in s but is not a plural, generally you can add ‘s Mr. Jones’s house
The boss’s office
If in doubt about this one, write what you and your reader would say, and keep it consistent.
To indicate that letters have been omitted
e.g. can’t = cannot
and the apostrophe shows that letters between the n and the t have been omitted – This is a contraction. Or a word can be abbreviated with an apostrophe
e.g. gov’t for government
In plurals of lower case letters
e.g. a’s and b’s
Apostrophes Matter I just had to share these from Wikipedia (which incidentally has a comprehensive article on apostrophes)
To illustrate that possessive apostrophes matter, and that their usage affects the meaning of written English, consider these four phrases (listed in Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct), each of which has a meaning distinct from the others: my sister’s friend’s investments my sisters’ friends’ investments my sisters’ friend’s investments my sister’s friends’ investments Kingsley Amis, on being challenged to produce a sentence whose meaning depended on a possessive apostrophe, came up with: “Those things over there are my husbands.”
Greengrocers’ Apostrophes I thought it was just me. Wikipedia tells me, however, that this is an identified phenomenon …
Apostrophes used incorrectly to form plurals are known as greengrocers’ apostrophes (or grocers’ apostrophes, or sometimes humorously greengrocers apostrophe’s). Read more at the article there.
I also acknowledge the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University for their excellent pages that simplify the ins and outs of apostrophes so well. They offer interactive apostrophe exercise one and apostrophe exercise two. Enjoy your play time there!