Thursday, May 29, 2008

Moral Dilemm'a

I have a problem and I need some advice. First, let it be known that I am an occasional grammar nazi. I usually don't voice my nazi'ness because I've learned that people don't like nazis. And people especially don't like others correcting their grammar. Also, I am an imperfect grammar nazi because i struggle with a few things, grammatically, myself. So who am I to judge? But there is something that I have seen much of lately. One time, two times, 20 times, it's everywhere. I don't mean to criticize because, again, I am imperfect, but I don't know what to do. Here is the offense:

People's inappropriate use of the apostrophe. I think it's gotten just way out of hand and completely out of control to the point where the apostrophe seems to be placed in sentences totally arbitrarily, in an almost erratic "devil may care" attitude, and the poor apostrophe has to suffer, and i do too. We all want to stand for something and if I use an apostrophe' however I want, then what does it mean? Nothing. That's what.

To be more specific, people seem to be afraid to make words plural simply by adding an s onto the end of them. They use the apostrophe as some kind of safety net or a young swimmer's arm floaties. Hang on there, little s. Don't forget your floaty. ' This is quite common with names. The Johnson's. The Stevenson's. The problem is, in my brain, I still hold to the fact that the apostrophe, used that way, is to mean possession. The Johnson's...cow. And I can't reconcile what I've been taught with the way people are using them nowadays. Now, my intent is not to say that everyone is stupid and to stop doing it (though the nazi inside may yearn to scream that), but I just want to know, should I bother trying to come to the bottom of this and possibly, in a kind and gentle way, inform people? I've been taught that if I see something, I should say something, but I also like having friends. So what do I do? Do I conform and just accept that the times, they are a-changin' and there's nothing I can do about it?

Allow me to veer a bit. In this city in which I live, I learned at the very beginning that people say "on line" as in, "I had to stand on line for 20 minutes to buy this jug of milk." Where I grew up, people said "in line" and to me, "on line" means "online" as in, "I am connected to the internet or the world wide web." My first reaction was to scoff and ridicule. But after having lived here for a while I realized that EVERYONE says it and to fight it would be a losing and pitiful battle, that I am in the minority and I should just roll with it. I am not sure I can bring myself to actually say it myself, but I accept that that is just what people say around here and that's ok. Because, let's face it, it's kind of an ambiguous term anyway. In line, on line, a tiny measly preposition that doesn't really mean a whole lot.

So: Do I apply this way of thinking to the apostrophe lesson? I feel like the rules are a bit more strict here, because it IS a rule, a grammar rule. Right? It hasn't changed, has it? We were all taught them, I'm assuming. I mean, I can't ever just conform and start using it the way people are using it. It would be a lie in my heart and I'd betray my own integrity to what I know to be true. But should I just remain silent and know that people are still good, deep down, and to let it slide? Or do I voice my thoughts and concerns and risk annoying everyone around me, assuming I don't/haven't already?

If I decide to take action, am I "crapping on my own doorstep," so to speak? Because I certainly don't want to have to be constantly looking over my shoulder, sweeping up my own grammatical crumbs which I'm sure there will be. Or should I just remain silent and practice a little forgiveness. And I shall continue living, reading things that have an inappropriate apostrophe, and when someone writes, "I was taking dinner to the Moore's" I will always immediately and instinctively look for the person or thing this writer was taking dinner to that belongs to one of the Moores, and that's just something I'm going to have to live with. Is that what should happen? Is this a lost cause? Do I accept it? Am I the minority here? Please, tell me what to do, if not for my own sake, for the sake of the poor apostrophe.


Joel said...

This is hard for me too, especially since being a grammar nazi is essentially what I do for a living.
I guess you have to choose your battles. When I worked at the Distribution Center and people wanted me to emboss scriptures for a family using the apostrophe, I tried to talk them out of it because they would be staring at that apostrophe for years. On the other hand, my in-laws have a stamp that has the abominable apostrophe on it, which they use for the return address on mail. There's no point in trying to convince them to get a new stamp.
In the end it's probably no different from personal trainers walking around seeing fat people or doctors walking around seeing people smoking.

)en said...

That is a very good point, Joel. I will consider that. Your comment is appreciated. I am a robot. apparently.

Ashley said...

I'm with you, Jen. Speak out. I will join your campaign. I like to use correct grammar and punctuation myself, and I do make mistakes now and again, too. But I also know that people HAVE gone apostrophe crazy, and that seems like a hard-and-fast rule that would be a good place to start.

I also see extraneous apostrophes all the time because of our last name (it's Banks, for all of my comment fans). People just don't know what to do with the 's' on the end. Now that I have a soapbox, here are some options:

The Banks Family
"Take this to the Bankses."
"I am jealous of the Bankses' movie collection."
"Ashley Banks' blog" or "Ashley Banks's blog" (rules differ)

(Now I'm second guessing myself. Are all of those correct?)

Lianna said...

I am with you Ashley, since my last name is Gibbs, everyone has trouble with the extra s. I always thought you just add an apostrophe to make it possessive and an es for plural, but the es looks funny. But what bugs me is when people say it, "We're going to the Gibbs--'s house" I don't know why, but I would rather they said the Gibbs house.
Jen, while i was reading how you had to adjust to the way people talk in New York, I couldn't help but laugh because you are from Utah and when I first went there I was blown away at all the dropped g's and silent t's. (walkin', talkin', mou'ain, Lay'on) and like you, I had a hard time not correcting everyone. I would suggest that you let it go for the most part, I think they are probably just unsure or ignorant and would not like to be told that they are. I'm glad I am not the only one that feels this way.

)en said...

Ha ha. Yes, accent is another very interesting and entertaining thing as well. Sean has taken to saying "Hahrrible" (short o sound) and "Flahrida" and "ahrange" and I reeeeally don't know how I feel about that.

Ash, all of those look right. I had to read them over a few times. Crazy town. Sometimes, with names that end in y, which also seems to throw people off, I like to change them the way you might another word ending in y, like with fly, you add ies. Flies. So for example, to make Scoresby plural: Scoresbies. :D it's just good fun.

Brooke said...

Okay, I can't help it. I'm spelling it Scoresbies from here on out.

I too support you in your apostrophe mission, for without mechanics rules, our language would quickly be in crazytown.

)en said...

Yes. Similarly, Morelloes is fun too.

Thanks for the support. I will, as Joel said, choose my battles. Or just write passive aggressive blog posts. :)