Contradiction in Terms
You say to-may-toe; I say toh-mah-tah. Deal with it.
Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Grumpy Grammarian

I have to confess that I'm actually bothered when people post in text-speak on my blog.

I know this is pretty damn snotty of me, but I'm an editor by nature and nurture and I can't help it. When sending SMS messages myself by cell phone, I don't use text-speak--I spell everything out. Hell, I punctuate. Friends know that if I fail to capitalize the word 'I', for instance, I am either really harassed or in the process of being abducted by aliens (during which event, it may be assumed, I would be feeling harassed).

It's not that I'm some kind of puritanical stickler for formal English in some rarefied, snootier-than-thou form. If you read this blog regularly, then you know that I delight in slang. I all but roll around in rhapsody over bastardized forms of pidgin English, and I practically had paroxysms of glee over Rei's 'gangsta-speak' post. I thoroughly enjoy the evolution of language.

Text-speak, however, seems more like a devolution to me, a lemming-like mass plunge into the waters of conceptual paucity and linguistic sloth. While I understand its use in the context of a cellular phone's compact screen and cramped keyboard, I fail to understand the necessity for its application when using a computer keyboard. Is it really that much harder to type 'people' instead of 'ppl', and 'anyway' instead of 'nwei'?

My stepfather-in-law once said to me that the purpose of language is to facilitate communication: if you understand what the other person is telling you, then language has been served. To an extent, I agree that language is meant to be a tool; and I am equally fascinated by language whether one chooses to wield it like a scalpel or swing it like a baseball bat. My point, however, is that if you insist on using your scalpel to slice sausage, does it not, eventually, cease to function as a scalpel?
Grammar and Punctuation: the possessive form
It has attracted my attention that many otherwise eloquent people don't seem to know how to indicate possession when using nouns that end in 'S'. So for your edification, here's how it works:

For singular nouns, add an 'apostrophe-s'. (E.g. "Ellis's anger was directed toward her mother.")

For plural nouns, add an apostrophe. (E.g. "The cousins' travails were by no means over.")

This generally only gets tricky when dealing with nouns that appear to be plural in form, but are in fact singular in function. For instance, since the Philippines, as a nation, is a single entity (I'm aware that this is highly arguable, but we're talking grammar, not politics), we should write "the Philippines's economy", not "the Philippines' economy".

Another exception is when dealing with historical personages, as the proper phrasing for some includes "Isis' temple" and "Moses' staff". However, since I don't expect y'all to be discussing Isis and Moses in your daily writing, don't worry about it and just stick to the two main rules outlined above.
Nikki bit in at 1:36 PM :: ::
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