Saturday, February 4, 2017

It's Back in the News

We're getting near that time of the year when the starchy grammarians are going to remind us how Presidents Day, Presidents's Day, President's Day, or Presidents' Day should be spelled out. Apostrophes might be the most reviled punctuation mark. It is so hated that a British writer has devoted a whole book, a small, almost hymnal edition, titled 'Fucking Apostrophes.' That's right. That's the title. Spelled out.

The WSJ recently devoted an A-Hed piece entirely on the trend in publishing that sees vulgarisms become part of the title--completely spelled out, and those that duck under some fig leaf asterisks.

Some of the titles do duck under some asterisks, which prevent the entire word from being spelled out in broad daylight. It's almost ironic that in a forward to his 'Fucking Apostrophes' book that the author Simon Griffin, gives us an entomology lesson in how the word apostrophe came about.

Typical, if a word origin isn't from Latin, it is from Greek. Apparently he aspostrophos in Greek, means turning away, or an elision, the omission of a sound or syllable when speaking. Mr. Griffin tells us a printer named Gregory Troy introduced into the French language in the 15th century.

One of the apostrophe's roles is to show us that something has been taken out. So it is nearly doubly ironic that books with vulgarities in their titles that do not choose to spell the word out using all the letters, instead replace key letters with asterisks.

Thus, there are titles out there sitting on the book store tables that are: 'F*ck Love'; 'There is No F*cking Secret; 'Get Your Sh*t Together. The irony is that if you follow Mr. Griffin's origin of the word, the letters that are subtracted (from anything) should be replaced by guessed it, an apostrophe.

Thus, his own book could have been printed with the title 'F'cking Apostrophes.' Sales however might have suffered.

I will admit I bought the book, two in fact, one as a gift, because I have this sentiment about apostrophes that they should be eliminated altogether. No one ever seems to advocate that. Instead they offer, like Mr. Griffin, and Lynne Truss, and the Chicago Manual of Style, examples to help you wade through the rules.

Basically, I say "f'ck the rules." Does an apostrophe get pronounced? Is "it's" pronounced any differently that "its"?

Book stores have taken to being careful where they place the books that have a vulgarism in their title, whether completely spelled out, or coyly hiding behind an asterisk. Books at eye level for children to see are raised to higher ground, or placed behind the cashiers. It's almost like the old days of buying a dirty book when they would put it in a plain brown bag for you so the title is not visible. Now of course it's flaunted.

Of course apostrophes taking the place of omitted letters in contractions is one thing; apostrophes showing possessive, plural or singular, is where Mr. Griffin has the right title: 'Fucking Apostrophes.'

Lynne Truss, in her book 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' made great play of Two Weeks' Notice/Two Week's Notice. Mr. Griffin does as well. I say "f'ck it." Two-week notice, where two-week is a modifier to notice. When confronted, duck. Rhymes with fuck.

The other day I wanted to know how to handle making Ph.D. plural. Someone has achieved two Ph.D.s? Ph.Ds? 'Chicago Manual of Style' took care of that example and showed me it's Ph.D.'s. Yes, apostrophes are fucking with your mind.

In the weekend edition of the WSJ there is a column by Ben Zimmer, "Word On The Street,' where he gives the origin of a hot word of the week. This week it was "vetting" due to President Trump's order on '"extreme vetting" of immigrants from seven nations. Forget what you think about the order, concentrate on the word "vetting."

The sub-heading got my attention: 'Extreme Vetting and Horse Races.' I already knew that "to be called out on the carpet" sprung from the stewards at Newmarket Racecourse making a jockey stand on a square of carpet as he offered an explanation of what went on during a race and why he shouldn't be disqualified for a riding infraction. The jockey is "called out" to explain.

Vetting's origin in horse racing seems to come from Latin roots involving veterinum, beast of burden. Veterinarian comes from the same root. Horse doctors came to be called "vets" as early as 1848. Vetting came into use to signify that a horse had been examined by a veterinarian.

According to Mr. Zimmer, vetting as applied to humans came into play around the time of the Reagan administration: careful evaluation of people and proposals.

Last week, I wish I could have vetted California Chrome a little better and asked him how he felt about running in last Saturday's $12 Million Pegasus Invitational, the world's richest horse race held at Florida's Gulfstream Park. If I could have found out how he really felt about what was being asked of him with Victor Espionza on his back, I might have saved myself $6 in wagers that included him to run no worse than second. He ran a very distant 9th, clearly not very interested.

And to show you what a perfect storm words and apostrophes can present, consider the the 1848 book that Mr. Zimmer refers to that first used the word vets: 'The Pocket and the Stud: Or Practical hints on the Management of the Stable" The author of the book of advice tells the reader, "...again comes the of course comes the vet.'s bill." Grrr. An abbreviation of veterinarian gets a possessive with an apostrophe.

It is unlikely that today vet would be considered an abbreviation requiring a period after it. Thus, we would probably see the above typed as "vet's bill." I can handle that.

As I mentioned, Mr Griffin is British, so he doesn't weigh in with a Presidents' Day example. But he does tell us Fathers' Day would be correct if there were two fathers involved. Clearly, these days there can be.

And in case there is any wonder who is seen in the above photo, it is Mr. Grffin's 9 year-old daughter helping to wrap his books. (In what surely looks to me like plain brown paper.) This was only after he sat her down and explained a little bit of background to the title, and no, she couldn't haul the book in and show it around the classroom to impress the teacher. Not meant for the general 9 year-old student population.

And to offer further proof that Mr. Griffin is not corrupting the young, his book is dedicated: For Matilda and Maurice Please remember that swearing's not big or clever. 

But it might sell.

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