It's "Its" December 8, 2010 2:24 PM   Subscribe

It's "Its". Mefites are unusually smart and literate people. It seems weird to me how often mistakes like this are made. Grocer's apostrophe, too. It's like everybody loses their minds when an "s" comes at the end of a word. What is with this?

I guess I'm just going to have to get used to it. Does this represent a change in language? At some point, is it going to just become accepted usage to throw apostrophes everywhere?
posted by Galaxor Nebulon to MetaFilter-Related at 2:24 PM (301 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

most of the time i think it's a simple typo. i certainly know the difference (same with than/then), but sometimes my fingers betray me and spell check doesn't pick it up, so in the mistake stays.
posted by nadawi at 2:26 PM on December 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


And you thought MetaTalk had run out of things to complain about!
posted by Joe Beese at 2:27 PM on December 8, 2010 [17 favorites]


this is what happen's when you turn on the large hadron colander.
posted by katillathehun at 2:28 PM on December 8, 2010 [25 favorites]


You're efforts are for not. Its a doggie dog world out there.
posted by found missing at 2:29 PM on December 8, 2010 [90 favorites]


Not to mention all the "there is/was" constructs... Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy!
posted by Ardiril at 2:29 PM on December 8, 2010


Man, the first comment is in all lower case letters.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:29 PM on December 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


Your imagining this. Its not that common, no more then failing to capitolize.
posted by fixedgear at 2:29 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Your absolutely right - it's happening far too often lately.
posted by panboi at 2:29 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''
posted by Avenger50 at 2:29 PM on December 8, 2010


Its annoying, irregardless of the way your decimating or partially destroying the English language typicalgraphical errors with.
posted by mattdidthat at 2:30 PM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


How many minds can one person lose?
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 2:30 PM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


For all intensive purposes, its not that common, irregardless.
posted by fixedgear at 2:30 PM on December 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


I was taught (incorrectly?) that "its" is bad grammar.

It seems to me that in most cases of "it's".. you're describing the property or attribute of whatever "it" represents and therefore calls for an apostrophe.

Sometimes I'm lazy or in a hurry, though.
posted by royalsong at 2:30 PM on December 8, 2010


"Grocer's apostrophe"? Don't you mean "grocers' apostrophe"?

I would have thought people would have learned the lesson about spelling flames by now...
posted by Lexica at 2:33 PM on December 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


Clearly, the only solution is for the OP to MeMail every offender with a scathing note that details correct usage every time this happens.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:33 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Was this trip really necessary?
posted by crunchland at 2:34 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Flag it, it's one of those weird things we fix for other people even if they don't request it because it makes people so itchy to see an incorrect "its"
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:35 PM on December 8, 2010 [18 favorites]


It's like everybody loses their minds when an "s" comes at the end of a word.

Or it's like apostrophe-"s" usually indicates the possessive, so people mistakenly think "it's" is the possessive of "it." That's pretty understandable.

Also, my iPod Touch automatically changes "its" to "it's." ("Autocorrect" doesn't seem like the right word.)
posted by John Cohen at 2:35 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Its a doggie dog world out there.

Because who wants to live in a world where dogs eat other dogs???
posted by GuyZero at 2:36 PM on December 8, 2010


IT'S-IT!
posted by gingerbeer at 2:36 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


NO, I WAS WRONG. IT'S-IT!
posted by gingerbeer at 2:36 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


You'll find that many of us at Metafilter frown upon prescriptive grammarians. Languages evolve, and the standard practice nowadays is to scatter apostrophe's willy-nilly. You can protest, but so could Cnut.
posted by nowonmai at 2:37 PM on December 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's the contagious nature of the thing. The more you see the incorrect version, the more your eye becomes accustomed to it, the more likely you are to make the error, even if you know it's incorrect. I do this sometimes and it drives me crazy when I see I've done it.

Does this represent a change in language? At some point, is it going to just become accepted usage to throw apostrophes everywhere?

Possibly. I guess I'll have to get used to being crazy. I understand the confusion over its/it's, sort of, but I don't understand how people can write, in one sentence, a correct plural and a plural with an apostrophe, and I see that sort of thing all the time.
posted by rtha at 2:38 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you think MetaFilter has a problem with this (or with grammar in general) I suggest you do not visit any other site on the internet. Ever.
posted by kate blank at 2:40 PM on December 8, 2010 [32 favorites]


I heard (probably actually read in a Feinman memoir) that when some people think, they "read" words in their head, while others "hear" them. As a hearer, my common grammatical mistakes can be chalked up to the fact that "it's" and "its" sound exactly the same. If I'm concentrating really hard, I'll catch the error as it comes out, but I apologize for not being perfect :)

It helps me to take contractions out of sentences as I say them in my head, and then add them in as I type (so I'll think "its" vs "it is"), but then the second step will get bogged down and I will start typing without any contractions at all, which reads a bit odd.
posted by muddgirl at 2:40 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


My trademarked personal philosophy asks "Have you shown you're humanity today?" We all err. I encourage mistakes. It helps to create a market for editors whom I love and hope to forever keep employed.

So yeah, everyone, please misuse your apostrophes. If you want a lower error rate, perhaps print is more in your comfort zone. But if you want free and now, your going to have to deal with a few mistakes.
posted by Toekneesan at 2:41 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, my husband who is a "hearer" also egregiously over-utilizes commas - any time he pauses for a mental breath he'll throw a comma in just to be safe. I think we might be doing the same thing with apostrophes.
posted by muddgirl at 2:41 PM on December 8, 2010


Although I will say that I am editing a woman right now who thinks there are three versions: its, it's and its' and she uses them all equally. ITS'! I crack up every time.
posted by kate blank at 2:41 PM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's it.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:42 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


It`s is the new it's.

Its with a hard-I is the old it"s.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:44 PM on December 8, 2010


WHAT IS IT?
posted by molecicco at 2:44 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't spell for shit and often confuse its and it's. I'm a professional writer and editor, but for whatever reasons these types of rules never "clicked" for me. (Interestingly, spellcheck has improved my spelling by giving me an instant reminder every time I do something wrong, but it can't improve my inappropriate its'.)

I am probably a bad person or at least stupid.
posted by serazin at 2:44 PM on December 8, 2010


If you want to get twitchy, I'd like to direct your attention to this exchange featured on Failbook.com. You almost have to admire green's steadfast refusal to use the word "your" properly, even with an entire page of examples to the contrary.
posted by phunniemee at 2:44 PM on December 8, 2010


Yeah heaven forbid anyone here make a typo.

Already I've had to fire 3 fucking editors for letting my typing mistakes make it onto this bastion of literature that is metafilter.
posted by gomichild at 2:45 PM on December 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


oh shit, burhanistan beat me to it!
posted by molecicco at 2:46 PM on December 8, 2010


t's one of those weird things we fix for other people even if they don't request it

I didn't think it was possible for me to like this site any more than I already did, but my heart just grew a size.
posted by 0xFCAF at 2:47 PM on December 8, 2010 [11 favorites]


Confirmation bias. People get it right 98% of the time but it's the 2% that you notice.

I am a pedant at heart too, but I try to not let it get to me.
posted by dfan at 2:47 PM on December 8, 2010


Does this represent a change in language?

An interesting question that I'd love to see answered (or to find out has been answered already) is whether confusion of its and it's is even something that is a change from some prior point in whatever portion of English usage history the distinction was first made.

There tends to be this presumption that one's style gripes and peeves represent some recent change in (or, rather, falling down of) language that has otherwise been more or less sterling on any given front when a lot of the time the New Bad Thing turns out after a little bit of examination to be a Longstanding Bad Thing (or, arguably, a Longstanding Pretty Reasonable Emergent Artifact Of Natural Language Use Thing).

Not putting any specific stakes out on its vs. it's as far as that goes, as I know nothing about the history of apostrophe usage on that front or in general in the evolution of English usage, but if I had to guess I'd say that the likelier meaningful change in language would be a broadening acceptance of descriptivist approaches to usage variations than a shift in the its/it's dynamic itself.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:48 PM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Shut you're face.
posted by special-k at 2:49 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I challenge anyone to find me a day with four weirder MeTa posts
posted by auto-correct at 2:50 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Nothing good will come out of a thread where "Faith No More" has been linked twice.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:50 PM on December 8, 2010


In other news, "Lenon" is now trending on Twitter.
posted by zarq at 2:51 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Or it's like apostrophe-"s" usually indicates the possessive, so people mistakenly think "it's" is the possessive of "it." That's pretty understandable.

In that situation, it helps to remember that "its" is like "his" and "hers"... They're possessive and they end in "s" but they don't require an apostrophe.

Of course that doesn't prevent me from accidentally typing "it's" instead of "its" sometimes, but at least I can console myself with knowing that I didn't do it out of ignorance.
posted by amyms at 2:52 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I challenge anyone to find me a day with four weirder MeTa posts

Amen. MetaTalk just keeps on giving today.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:53 PM on December 8, 2010


'
posted by Roger Dodger at 2:53 PM on December 8, 2010


Time for pie yet? To soon, man, two soon!
posted by fixedgear at 2:55 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I blame smartphones. When composing a comment on my phone as opposed to my desktop I'm much more likely to make an its/it's error, because stupid autocorrect is autocorrecting stupidly.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:00 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh this thread was doomed's from the start. I consider the Faith No More link's to be a small victory here.
posted by molecicco at 3:01 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I once went on a date with a guy who thought Andy Warhol died of ammonia.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 3:01 PM on December 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's like everybody loses their minds when an "s" comes at the end of a word. What is with this?

I generally don't edit stuff I write on the Internet. It's not that I don't know the difference between it's and its, it's that I don't really care if I occasionally put a comma where it doesn't belong. The smart and literate people of Metafilter can read past most errors in spelling, grammar or punctuation.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:02 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's one of those weird things we fix for other people even if they don't request it

ZOMG! Aggressive moderation! Does the fascist finger of typographical correctness know no bounds? Wake up, sheeple!
posted by amyms at 3:02 PM on December 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


I totally what you did there.
posted by special-k at 3:02 PM on December 8, 2010


"3 fucking editors"

well, its easy to surmise that, if they had focused on their work instead, they probably could have kept their jobs...
posted by HuronBob at 3:03 PM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's "Its".

Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:03 PM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Its/it's doesn't bug me anywhere near as much as the terrible (and increasingly common) "there's" for "there are."
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:04 PM on December 8, 2010


Student's for McCain
posted by Burhanistan at 3:05 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does this represent a change in language? At some point, is it going to just become accepted usage to throw apostrophes everywhere?

Ye's.
posted by chrismear at 3:07 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I blame my phone's autocorrect. I still can't figure out why it insists on correcting as to a's EVERY TIME.
posted by Zophi at 3:09 PM on December 8, 2010


This is one of the things I love about being a linguist. We're all shit spellers. We stutter. We cant punctuate for crap. So what happens is, every time we notice a typo or speech error, instead of getting all prescriptivist, we jump to pin down exactly what happened in technical terms.

(The only example I can think of of this is something I read on MeFi the other day... empath wrote "Of course the down sound of announcing that you have..." in the Julian Assange thread (be warned, clicking the link stirs the big beast). If that were said in a room full of linguists we'd all clamor to be the first to yell "RHYME REDUPLICATION INTERFERENCE!")
posted by iamkimiam at 3:10 PM on December 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


An interesting question that I'd love to see answered (or to find out has been answered already) is whether confusion of its and it's is even something that is a change from some prior point in whatever portion of English usage history the distinction was first made.

Oddly -- and I'm not making this up -- Abraham Lincoln made this mistake routinely in his letters and drafts of speeches (at least in the Library of America collection). His style is so extraordinary and beautiful, even when composing workaday letters denying some political appointment or reminding the troops not to harass the families of Confederate soldiers. Then there's an odd "it's" thrown in, which is jarring, and I have to remind myself that I'm not the greatest political writer in United States history and there's a good argument that he is.

If I remember, I'll try to post an example when I'm able to look at the book tonight.
posted by ferdydurke at 3:11 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does the fascist finger of typographical correctness know no bounds?

If it's any comfort, "we" really means "jessamyn" on this point: I'm actually a bit of a hardcore isolationist about such things and will not fix an apostrophe error unilaterally so long as I live and will (if only silently) give you a bit of an evil eye if that and that alone is why you're writing to me to ask me to edit your comment.

So, you know, checks and balances.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:13 PM on December 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


the terrible (and increasingly common) "there's" for "there are."

There's those who look at typos the way they are, and ask why. I dream of typos that never were, and ask why not?
posted by amyms at 3:13 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is far less common on MetaFilter than on most sites. If this bugs you, I would stay well away from newspaper comment threads. Actually, even if this doesn't bug you you should stay away from newspaper comment threads.

What I'm trying to say here is that newspaper comment threads are terrible.
posted by brundlefly at 3:14 PM on December 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


You should John Adam's' marginal notes.
posted by clavdivs at 3:15 PM on December 8, 2010


whats?
posted by Namlit at 3:15 PM on December 8, 2010


oh ff's
posted by Eideteker at 3:16 PM on December 8, 2010 [12 favorites]


Also: the umpteenth callout for "tendencies". There are no tendencies. People do stuff ALL THE TIME.
posted by Namlit at 3:17 PM on December 8, 2010


I once went on a date with a guy who thought Andy Warhol died of ammonia.

I had a camp counselor try to tell me that going to the bathroom meant you "removed your bowels" and was really pissed off to be corrected by a wildly cackling 8 year old. Thus began my long and magnificent career of being a smug jerkface.
posted by elizardbits at 3:18 PM on December 8, 2010 [11 favorites]


typos are caused by a low self of steam.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 3:18 PM on December 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


Eideteker, that was beautiful.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:18 PM on December 8, 2010


Sometimes people go to the bathroom to remove their towels.
posted by Namlit at 3:20 PM on December 8, 2010


Eideteker, that was beautiful.
Yeah, itz like seeing history being written.
posted by Namlit at 3:21 PM on December 8, 2010


Turns up everywhere, even in business correspondence: Your petition for an "ungreased backdoor Hammertime lovemaking session" with our telemarketer's Carol and Tracy is preposterous and feral. "
posted by madamjujujive at 3:24 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Dude. Just let it be.
posted by eyeballkid at 3:28 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had a camp counselor try to tell me that going to the bathroom meant you "removed your bowels"

切腹 :)
posted by zarq at 3:36 PM on December 8, 2010


For the record, I screwed up an its/it's just a few hours ago. Can I haz edit function?
posted by GuyZero at 3:39 PM on December 8, 2010


Please keep being annoyed by this, because I think of it as job security.
posted by theredpen at 3:41 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


For all intensive purposes — defiantly.
posted by nfg at 3:41 PM on December 8, 2010


Flag it, it's one of those weird things we fix for other people

Do you have a preference as to how we flag it? "Display error" or "Other" would seem to be the logical choices, but I'm not really sure which, or if it matters. (Do different types of flags go into different queues?)
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:42 PM on December 8, 2010


This site is full of such loosers.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:44 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kadin2048: "Do you have a preference as to how we flag it? "Display error" or "Other" would seem to be the logical choices, but I'm not really sure which, or if it matters. (Do different types of flags go into different queues?)"

It would seem that the most appropriate flag for someone like the OP to use is "offensive".
posted by gman at 3:47 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mefites are unusually smart and literate people... yet every now and again they think that rants on The Grey about their favourite linguistic peccadillo are going to make some sort of difference to someone.
posted by pompomtom at 3:50 PM on December 8, 2010


I literally exploded with rage when i saw this post.
posted by hermitosis at 3:51 PM on December 8, 2010 [9 favorites]


Nope, not a change in language--people have never been perfect with this kind of stuff.

And yep, you'll probably have to get used to it, poor dear.
posted by box at 3:51 PM on December 8, 2010


Take heart, though--you could have bigger problems.
posted by box at 3:53 PM on December 8, 2010


Animal Crackers

½ cup oatmeal
2 teaspoons honey
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup butter
4 tablespoons buttermilk

Blend oatmeal in food processor until sandy. Add honey, salt, flour, and baking soda and blend until mixed. Add butter and buttermilk pulse 10 times. Roll thin layer and cut in shapes, (preferably animal-like). Bake at 400°, 10 minutes.
posted by crunchland at 3:53 PM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


(I'd give you the recipe for duck soup, but it involves duck blood, and that's sort of hard to come by.)
posted by crunchland at 3:55 PM on December 8, 2010


It's......
posted by Cheminatrix at 3:56 PM on December 8, 2010


(I'd give you the recipe for duck soup, but it involves duck blood, and that's sort of hard to come by.)

/ me eyes the pond in the park and contemplates
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:56 PM on December 8, 2010


When I'm tired or my brain is fried I'm more likely to type similar-but-not-right words (especially when they're phonetically similar) -- mistakes I would never make and instantly spot on reading in other circumstances. Point is, there are explanations that have nothing to do with changing usage.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:00 PM on December 8, 2010


Mefites are unusually smart and literate people.

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.
posted by misha at 4:01 PM on December 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's it's a ballroom blitz.
posted by Abiezer at 4:05 PM on December 8, 2010


My girlfriend calls 'em "grocer's commas," which I like better, because it saves the pronunciation of "apostrophe," which has a lot of syllables.
posted by klangklangston at 4:05 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


i would of if i could of.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 4:09 PM on December 8, 2010


Autocorrect has thwarted my attempts at good punctuation more than once. (The other 99,998 mistakes were my own.)
posted by salvia at 4:14 PM on December 8, 2010


It's a fact...
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:24 PM on December 8, 2010


I've been wondering, now that I am, in fact, a grocer, do I get to use apostrophes in any way I choose?
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 4:25 PM on December 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


It’s U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK, not the horrid U+0027 straight apostrophe everyone here is using. Get it right, people.
posted by mbrubeck at 4:30 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


BitterOldPunk writes "I blame smartphones. When composing a comment on my phone as opposed to my desktop I'm much more likely to make an its/it's error, because stupid autocorrect is autocorrecting stupidly."

Text entry interfaces peaked with the model M and everything else since hasn't been an improvement.
posted by Mitheral at 4:39 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


OH LOOK SISYPHUS THERE GOE'S YOUR ROCK AGAIN
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:44 PM on December 8, 2010 [15 favorites]


Hey, can we all just stop for a sec and put hermitosis together again? It seems such a waste.
posted by Namlit at 4:45 PM on December 8, 2010


It's what it's.
posted by Cheminatrix at 4:57 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Get over it.

It's an apostrophe, not a catastrophe.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:59 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


> You can protest, but so could Cnut.

I'm going to start replying "[pronoun] can [verb], but so could Cnut" at random moments. "Honey, can you get that container down for me?" "Yes I can... but so could Cnut." It will be the optimistic American equivalent of the pessimistic Russian use of Pushkin ("Who do you think is going to fix it, Pushkin?").
posted by languagehat at 5:01 PM on December 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


"Lenon" is now trending on Twitter.

The noblest of gases.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:02 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Who do you think is going to fix it, Pushkin?"

That comma should be a question mark, unless "Pushkin" is some kind of Russian term of endearment.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:06 PM on December 8, 2010


My name is 1000monkeys and I support this callout. (Also: I am drunk, which is very rare indeed).

Grammar Nazis FTW!!!
posted by 1000monkeys at 5:12 PM on December 8, 2010


Obviously the next MeTa will be a furious complaint about the fact that the period character in the font used on Metafilter is not symmetrical.
posted by winna at 5:13 PM on December 8, 2010


I learned from the internets that no one can spell 'Whoa' (WOAH) or 'Aw' (AWE, AWH).
posted by sweetkid at 5:16 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


> It's an apostrophe, not a catastrophe.

If it's worse than a catastrophe, it's a disastrophe. And a strategy that leads to a tragedy is a stragedy. These are my two favourite made-up words.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:16 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks.

I'm too tired to know if you're joking or not.
posted by doublehappy at 5:16 PM on December 8, 2010


An interesting question that I'd love to see answered (or to find out has been answered already) is whether confusion of its and it's is even something that is a change from some prior point in whatever portion of English usage history the distinction was first made.

Good point. I haven't noticed and increase or decrease in incorrect apostrophes in the 30-some year I've been paying attention. As long as I've been reading casually-written stuff, people have been making these mistakes.

Is it really surprising? When we speak, there's no difference in the sounds for "it's cake" (it is cake) and "its cake" (e.g. the dog's cake). If people are trying to type out how they speak, which is what I try to do in online forums, it's very, very easy to make this sort of blunder. And without an editor, it's hard to catch.

I might be wrong, but I from what I can tell, I rarely post the wrong "its." But that's because I'm anal enough to proof-read everything I post online, and I specifically check each "it's" and "its." Whenever I encounter one, I read the sentence aloud, saying "it is" for "it's" or "its," and that instantly tells me if I got the apostrophe right or not. It's amazing how often I find that I made a mistake.

I continually exchange like-sounding words. If I didn't proof my posts, you'd all be reading about how I turned forty-sex and got lot of presence, most notably a new inkjet dinner.
posted by grumblebee at 5:19 PM on December 8, 2010


The irony here being that the poster of this thread looks a few orders of magnitude more clueless (and rude) than the people who make the grammar mistake he or she is complaining about.

Unless they always make the same mistake, in which case: forced sterilization and re-education camps, motherfuckers. Because that shit will not be tolerated.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:41 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is it?
posted by munchingzombie at 5:42 PM on December 8, 2010


In elementary school the difference between "its" and "it's" was drilled into our heads, but "then" and "than" were never mentioned. I didn't even realize there were two separate words until 5th grade when my mom pointed out I was using the wrong one.
posted by Deflagro at 5:43 PM on December 8, 2010


I have to say that I am guilty of this. I do KNOW the difference between it's and its; your and you're; their and there, but unfortunately that would not be evident in my posting history. No excuses except that my fingers are faster than my brain and I am guilty of hitting post comment before I've proofed my comments. Sometimes I will post a correction, but most of the time I feel that it will draw even more attention to my gaffe and I assume that most people know what I meant and it will just derail whatever post or Askme I'm responding to. Yes, I need to slow down. I'm old enough to have gone through high school and most of undergrad without a computer and I never made these errors when I was writing out things longhand or even on a typewriter. There is something about the speed of typing that a computer keyboard facilitates that has made me far more careless and it's something that I need to be more careful about (especially the random apostrophes; I don't even know what's up with that).

Perhaps due to my own issues in this area, I tend to cut people a lot of slack in this area. I assume that they are aware of the difference or know that plurals do not require apostrophes and are as mortified by their mistakes as I am by my own. I will preview this comment and yet will sadly not be shocked if an error or two slips through.
posted by kaybdc at 5:48 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


(OK, for this story to make sense, the Americans in the audience have to understand that eggplant is sometimes known as "aubergine" in other commonwealth countries.)

So I was traveling outside of Siem Reap with a friend, on our way to or from Angkor Wat, and we were super hungry so we decided to stop at this roadside stand for some "real" Cambodian food instead of going to some touristy place in town.

And the menu... man, let me tell you. It was a thing of beauty. The proprietor had access to a word processor and spell check, but was clearly not intimately familiar with the English language. For instance, the chicken-on-a-stick appetizer with peanut sauce was "chicken satire." But far and away the best entry was the eggplant dish, which was called - I am not making this up - "fried aborigine."

HOO-ah. I would've ordered it just so I could tell people I did, but I hate eggplant oh so much.
posted by rkent at 6:18 PM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


You can protest, but so could Cnut.

Your knot suppose to use that wrod here.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:28 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


And you thought MetaTalk had run out of things to complain about!

There is not much I can say that I absolutely believe in, but the fact that this will never happen is solidly on that list.

I'm sure I have made many it's/its (and who's/whose and other similar mistakes), and for them, I apologize. But trust me, OP, my mistakes bother me far more than they could ever bother me. If I think about them too much, I would never, ever post, just like I often can't speak in real life. If there are others here who feel the same way, but occasionally overcome this and are able to communicate a great idea to a discussion, I'll gladly overlook their mistakes if they will do the same to mine.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:44 PM on December 8, 2010


I think we've talked this one out. It's time for a new MeTa complaint post!
posted by Burhanistan at 6:55 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks.

That makes parsing less elegant and consistent.
John said, 'That makes parsing less elegant and consistent.'.
I would prefer people to write sentences like "John said, 'That makes parsing less elegant and consistent.'.".
I would prefer people to write sentences like "John said, 'That makes parsing less elegant and consistent.'." (even if only to ensure that balanced delimiters (like parentheses and quotes) are parsable independently of the sentence they're situated in (in the manner of a push-down automaton)).
posted by Jpfed at 6:57 PM on December 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


Chalk it up to an Overnight Sensation.
posted by Sailormom at 7:02 PM on December 8, 2010


I see your Cnut and raise you a Harthacnut.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:03 PM on December 8, 2010


Or, indeed, two and a Harthacnut, same as down the street.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:03 PM on December 8, 2010


Argggh inkjet dinnerrrr I'M SO HUNGRY
posted by Nattie at 7:04 PM on December 8, 2010


Well, for my part, I use a laptop with a dead apostrophe key so this is usually a non-issue but it does result in what seems like overly-formal formulations of otherwise common phrases. Contractions are a luxury I can ill afford, I guess. Its the way of the world. Heh.
posted by joe lisboa at 7:13 PM on December 8, 2010


This was different, oh yes.
posted by nomadicink at 7:14 PM on December 8, 2010


I'm bored of this.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:23 PM on December 8, 2010


I LIKE CAKE
posted by elizardbits at 7:31 PM on December 8, 2010


I HATE WAFFLES.
posted by nomadicink at 7:34 PM on December 8, 2010


And now I have no choice but to spend the next ten hours going through all of joe lisboa's comments (or should I say comments made by joe lisboa) looking for overly-formal formulations of otherwise common phrases likely to have resulted from typing on a computer with a malfunctioning apostrophe key.

Oh my God! This "I will" totally should have been "I'll."
posted by ND¢ at 7:38 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I AM INDIFFERENT TOWARD MOST BAKED GOODS
posted by Sys Rq at 7:38 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'M PRETTY SURE MOST FOODS ARE PRETTY GOOD AS LONG AS THEY'RE PROPERLY MADE WITH GOOD INGREDIENTS AND YOU DON'T HAVE ANY RELIGIOUS OR DIETARY RESTRICTIONS
posted by Burhanistan at 7:42 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


ITS WEIRD THAT WE'RE SHOUTING.
posted by nomadicink at 7:47 PM on December 8, 2010


NOBODY IS SHOUTING YOU JUST LEFT YOUR HEARING AID TURNED UP TOO HIGH
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:48 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm going to quote my beloved Chinese painting teacher explaining bone brush marks to the class: "It's like the English language, where things are joined by proposition and conjecture".
posted by effluvia at 7:48 PM on December 8, 2010


I AM JUST OPINING VEHEMENTLY
posted by Burhanistan at 7:49 PM on December 8, 2010


THAT'S NOT A HEARING AID, ITS AN EXTRA BATTERY BECAUSE I'M A CYBORG THAT HATES WAFFLES.
posted by nomadicink at 7:58 PM on December 8, 2010


HE'S NOT OPINING, HE'S OBLEEDING ODEMISED
posted by Sys Rq at 8:01 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


SHOUTING IS RAD

the sad thing is i didn't even realize the capslock was on
posted by elizardbits at 8:11 PM on December 8, 2010


I DON'T LIKE SPAM
posted by Burhanistan at 8:13 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Of course, there are times when you see an incorrect "its/it's" and you can't help but wonder if there's a chance that its intentional. Your wondering if that's happening now, perchance?
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:16 PM on December 8, 2010


ITS..........
posted by Sys Rq at 8:22 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


There was a receptionist at a facility I used to work at that kept unwittingly referring to the IT department as the ITT department. Lady, we didn't go to that school you saw advertised on TV.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:24 PM on December 8, 2010


Or it's like apostrophe-"s" usually indicates the possessive, so people mistakenly think "it's" is the possessive of "it." That's pretty understandable.

In that situation, it helps to remember that "its" is like "his" and "hers"... They're possessive and they end in "s" but they don't require an apostrophe.


It could be useful to remember that "its" is like "hers." The analogy to "his" doesn't really work since "hi" ("his" without the "s") doesn't mean anything.

Also, people rarely write "her's" because it's pretty easy to remember that it's always "hers." That doesn't work with it's/its.
posted by John Cohen at 8:27 PM on December 8, 2010


I learned from the internets that no one can spell 'Whoa' (WOAH) or 'Aw' (AWE, AWH).

Spend some time looking around the web at WAH LAH, WA LA, WALLA WALLAH. They are myriad, and their users legion. I'ts enough to make you rip your own head right off.

The other one that PISSES ME OFF (its been along day) is "open a can of whoop-ass." It's whup, goddamit! WHUP!
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:33 PM on December 8, 2010


(its been along day)

Has it now?
posted by katillathehun at 8:35 PM on December 8, 2010


So Muntzian.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:36 PM on December 8, 2010


Has it now?

Yes. I scarcely have the time to a lot to determining the proper homophone.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:40 PM on December 8, 2010


It's just a misplaced apostrophe.


I can't believe I'm the first person to link to that.
posted by Ortho at 8:46 PM on December 8, 2010


What is with this?

You mean "Whats with this". HTH, HAND.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:56 PM on December 8, 2010


The other one that PISSES ME OFF (its been along day) is "open a can of whoop-ass." It's whup, goddamit! WHUP!

whoop-ass: 262kgg*
whup-ass: 147kgg

The whoops have it by almost 2:1.

*kilogoogles
posted by Sys Rq at 9:05 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


1. I believe in writing in a way that generally conforms to current print standards, out of consideration for frequent readers. Written language that follows common standards is a lot easier to read. It is possible to do this whether or not one considers oneself a prescriptivist or a descriptivist. At either extreme (language is totally constructed and not built on empirical requirements and constantly evolving | language is fixed and immovable, arises from nature, and never changes), language simply wouldn't work; it evolves, but no so fast or so wildly that you should stop caring whether or not you're confusing people, or demand that they be the ones to work hard to parse your lazy sentences. We're aiming to communicate. Otherwise, fish helterskelter around whamding snotface leaf.

2. Occasionally I make a mistake.
posted by Miko at 9:05 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


The whoops have it by almost 2:1.

See, that's the thing. Un-linked from the -ass, it makes no sense. To "open a can of *-ass" on someone is to deliver a beating, literal or metaphorical, right? Look at the meaning of whoop and the meaning of whup, which is the one derived from whip, as in to whip someone's ass. Whoop-ass just makes no sense, but there it is. Thus my ire.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:15 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm afraid Merriam-Webster may be behind on their variants.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:19 PM on December 8, 2010


> Otherwise, fish helterskelter around whamding snotface leaf.

I knew it! Sneaky fish....
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:20 PM on December 8, 2010


Proverbs 26:3; Job 5:21
posted by Burhanistan at 9:23 PM on December 8, 2010


I'm afraid Merriam-Webster may be behind on their variants.

Eh. Its not like its an apostrophe or something important.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:25 PM on December 8, 2010


The point of punctuation is to clearly communicate. I would hazard a guess that nobody has ever seen "it's" used as a possessive and thought it meant "it is".

So get over it, is what I'm saying.
posted by empath at 9:33 PM on December 8, 2010


It's "Its".

As others have pointed out, unless you're British, the period should have gone inside the quotation mark.

As they haven't pointed out, the second "it's" should have been lower-cased.

An immutable law of the Internet is that if you're going to complain about other people's punctuation, or grammar, or word usage, you will make some unforgivable mistake in English usage in doing so.

Doing so is unadvisable.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:34 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I always do the period outside the quotation marks. It just makes sense.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:44 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


THE "GENITIVE CLITIC:" GRAMMATICAL RELIC OF OUR ROBUSTLY-CASED PAST, OR SEXUALLY-TRANSMITTED INFECTION?
posted by killdevil at 9:50 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Giant real estate billboard on the outskirts of Christchurch: YOUR PAYING TOO MUCH
posted by tracicle at 9:56 PM on December 8, 2010


adamdschneider: "I always do the period outside the quotation marks. It just makes sense."

I was always taught by my American parents that placement of the period inside or outside of quotation marks or parentheses is dependent. See here:

She said, "Your grammar is nearly always wrong."
He reminded her of the time she incorrectly used the word "your".
He won the argument. (Which was the desired outcome.)
Let this be a lesson to you (everyone).
posted by Night_owl at 10:01 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ortho: "It's just a misplaced apostrophe."

He said "copy-editor". Refer to this page in the Mefi Style Guide, coming out in 2012.
posted by Night_owl at 10:03 PM on December 8, 2010


I was taught it always goes on the inside, which I decided was bollocks. Now that you mention it, I do put it on the inside when it ends a quoted sentence, damn my inconsistent eyes.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:38 PM on December 8, 2010


most of the time i think it's a simple typo. i certainly know the difference (same with than/then), but sometimes my fingers betray me and spell check doesn't pick it up, so in the mistake stays.

nadawi: I agree that it's a simple keyboarding issue which is one reason that your (apparently)intentional lack of capitalization intrigues me. For natural keyboarders, the shift key when encountering a proper name or first person pronoun is employed without conscious thought, so clearly its omision must be conscious. Two questions - it's clearly not a boycott of the poor shift key - you used it in two contractions. Doesn't this slow you down? And what is gained by it?
posted by Neiltupper at 11:40 PM on December 8, 2010


When I'm ready to hit that 'Post Comment' button, I'm usually all in a sweat, and I do go over what I've written but mostly to rearrange -- move this sentence here, that one there, move this paragraph up or down, whatever. And I don't so much watch for typos and/or grammar mistakes and sometimes I just don't know the right grammar. And I just don't know, mostly, when to use quote marks and when to use apostrophes, so I just sortof wing it, close my eyes and throw it all at the wall and see what sticks.

And sometimes I'm just tired of messing with it and sometimes I'm just wanting to post the thing before I chicken out, back away from what I've written, before exposing my weaknesses here; I don't know how to write right and I know it pains many of you literate people here and it damn sure pains me, too. To me, writing here is maybe like what it would be like to paint with a master, and I'm standing there with my finger elbow-deep in my nose, sweating under his/her baleful glare, and all I have is finger paints to work with, on brown grocer paper; I want to run, I want to hide, I'm like a scalded dog...
posted by dancestoblue at 12:21 AM on December 9, 2010


G'day. I he'rd yr' looking fr' th' culprit. If it's been thine vill'nry and twine, strik'th m' down. But if thine words are shaded 'nd rend'd assunder, rendered outwith, this loss of sight, and cut the eyes from two thusly periodized pies! Give peas a chance. A Relevant Wiki.

I can't copy (but I really really want to quote it from pg 148) any text from this pdf, but it is must to read much!

And, I can't find this (below) on MF anywhere, but it's absurd that it wouldn't be somewhere here (hugely interesting use of Evolutionary Mathmatics/linguistics; usually are already on MF), so most likely my ability lack to searched was cause, so it seems useful to linked to these links, because it be'th the imperfection exemplifications, outliers and subtle variations in the cosmic background microwave radiation language, which shows us for the first time how old it really is, and how much it has been altered by us, and in tandem altered its users which does cause human linguistic awesome. This is not what you asked about, but it's nifty, and there are some really interesting points within, and if the rules of ap'strophy club are anything like evolutionary dynamics of irregular verbs (guessing they're related) then you' suggestion may one day be accurate (at some point, yes, it may very well become acceptable (neigh[hhhh] mandatory to j'st thr'w'postrophe's any'n'verywh're [expect a resurgence of oral cultures; txt speak is halfway there.])

The future of the past (tense) irregular.
Quantifying the evolutionary dynamics of language[Full article from Nature]
Human language is based on grammatical rules1, 2, 3, 4. Cultural evolution allows these rules to change over time5. Rules compete with each other: as new rules rise to prominence, old ones die away. To quantify the dynamics of language evolution, we studied the regularization of English verbs over the past 1,200 years. Although an elaborate system of productive conjugations existed in English's proto-Germanic ancestor, Modern English uses the dental suffix, '-ed', to signify past tense6. Here we describe the emergence of this linguistic rule amidst the evolutionary decay of its exceptions, known to us as irregular verbs. We have generated a data set of verbs whose conjugations have been evolving for more than a millennium, tracking inflectional changes to 177 Old-English irregular verbs. Of these irregular verbs, 145 remained irregular in Middle English and 98 are still irregular today. We study how the rate of regularization depends on the frequency of word usage. The half-life of an irregular verb scales as the square root of its usage frequency: a verb that is 100 times less frequent regularizes 10 times as fast. Our study provides a quantitative analysis of the regularization process by which ancestral forms gradually yield to an emerging linguistic rule.
Press: News Feature in Nature (2), New Scientist (Cover) (2), Discover, Reuters, LA Times, SF Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, NPR, London Telegraph, UPI, notexactlyrocketscience (#4 Story of 2007). (Spoiler: Irregular verbs regularize at a rate that is inversely proportional to the square root of their usage frequency.)
Mayonnaise cows it's big, thou wayward idle-headed pigeon-egg! (joking!, I agree, it's an interesting point, and it is, indeed, weird how it is so common for us [me too, I am being jokey here, just so I don't slip up and 'mbareass me's'lf] to JUST LOSE IT in relation to the apostrophe, as soon as the word ends in s, or the word is 'it[s]'.
Like they always say about language; go easy on us, it's not pocket science!
posted by infinite intimation at 12:23 AM on December 9, 2010


I vote that only Galaxor Nebulon be given a 3 minute edit window, across the whole site, and then he can fix that particular mistake for everyone.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:31 AM on December 9, 2010


It’s U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK, not the horrid U+0027 straight apostrophe everyone here is using. Get it right, people.

You are kidding, right?


Flag it, it's one of those weird things we fix for other people even if they don't request it because it makes people so itchy to see an incorrect "its"

Leave my posts alone, please.
posted by gjc at 3:48 AM on December 9, 2010




I heard (probably actually read in a Feinman memoir) that when some people think, they "read" words in their head, while others "hear" them.


When I was doing my child language acquisition bit of my degree, one of my professors - an American - said the reason why many USians misspell with homonyms (ie. 'played fare') is because learning to read with flash cards is more common over there than here (I can't remember learnign to read so I have no idea what system is used most in the UK). I'd be interested to know if this is more than opinion.

I can never remember when 'its' takes an apostrophe if it isn't possessive or a contraction. I do get annoyed when people refer to 'London, England' and 'London Telegraph', if that helps. PEDANTS TOGETHER. I also hate the T-shirt I saw sold in a chain store (ie. mass produced from a head office, not printed in a back room) which said 'I may be drunk, but your still ugly.'
posted by mippy at 4:28 AM on December 9, 2010


Come on mippy, who can remember the difference between 'your', 'you're' and 'yaw' when they're drunk?
posted by SyntacticSugar at 4:38 AM on December 9, 2010


MrMippy and I have something we would like to implement when we are rulers of the world, and that is that whenever someone wears a T-shirt with a slogan, they must be prepared to follow through at any time.

'If found, return to the pub' - expect to be rounded up and shoved into the nearest alehouse.
'If you think I'm a bitch, you should meet my mother' - expect a knock on the door and a visit from a bitch specialist (pref. Joan Rivers) to quantify the level of bitchitude.
'It's 11am, why am I not drunk yet' - the subjunctive construction of this question will be sideswept in favour of administering an IV drip of pure grain alcohol to get the wearer fully sozzled.
'Tonight Matthew, I'm Gonna Be Wasted!' - Matthew Kelly will appear alongside the IV drip at 6pm sharp.
posted by mippy at 4:43 AM on December 9, 2010


Also, Bob the Angry Flower can help with the its/it's conundrum. Would have been helpful for me yesterday.
Also, I'd be more inclined to take this call-out seriously if it didn't read like an extract from 'Janet and John: Off to play on the Internet'.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 4:44 AM on December 9, 2010


MrMippy and I have something we would like to implement when we are rulers of the world, and that is that whenever someone wears a T-shirt with a slogan, they must be prepared to follow through at any time.
Might not be so great with one of those 'Sex Instructor: First Lesson Free' T-shirts, though YMMV.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 4:50 AM on December 9, 2010


I knew you noticed that extraneous apostrophe s. I knew it. Goddamn it. I try hard, you know? I try really hard.
posted by h00py at 5:13 AM on December 9, 2010


I'm just waiting for hi's, her's, and their's.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:28 AM on December 9, 2010


*sob*
posted by h00py at 5:29 AM on December 9, 2010


Doing so is unadvisable.
ISWYDT.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:29 AM on December 9, 2010


Perhaps it'd be useful to think of the ' in it's as an elision marker for: tem the following is a part of the preceding item or item. Then it's grammatically correct and merely incredibly awkward.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:44 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oooh, what about comma misuse?

"Let's eat grandma!"

"I'd like to thank my parents, God and Ayn Rand."
posted by sonika at 6:05 AM on December 9, 2010


You, sir, are a pendant.
posted by Ahab at 6:08 AM on December 9, 2010


I would hazard a guess that nobody has ever seen "it's" used as a possessive and thought it meant "it is".

Here's the issue: for a second, I do. I see the "it's" and read it as a contraction for "it is," and then continue with the sentence and mentally hit a roadbump, where I have to say to myself 'Huh? Wait a sec - that wasn't "it is" because it isn't making sense. It was supposed to be "its.'" This mental correction happens at the speed of thought, so it goes by quickly, but it's nonetheless a roadbump. It pulls my mind out of the stream experience of reading, which is focused on content and what the person is saying, and snaps me back out into a different frame of mind in which I'm suddenly aware of my own thinking and having to draw on another part of my brain to parse the sentence, notice that there was an error, think whatever it is I'm going to think about how and why the person made the error, re-parse the sentence correctly, and then move on.

If you can avoid having a reader have to do this, especially repeatedly, it's more considerate because they'll get a smoother reading experience and be much more receptive to your content.

I'm not a drill sergeant about it: as I said, I go fast and make mistakes and recognize that others do, too. But I would never say it's unimportant. It's the kind of thing that makes people toss out cover letters and leaves otherwise well-thought-out opinions open to attack. It's worth learning to do correctly, and it is possible to learn and remember. We can all extend a little forgiveness, but I won't go as far as saying it doesn't matter at all, or that the problem is in the reader. We're all used to clean copy, and we can read faster and in a more focused way when presented with it.
posted by Miko at 6:13 AM on December 9, 2010 [9 favorites]


Hm. For me , the correction happens at the speed of um, what, oh, duh, which is a bit slower than the speed of thought.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:17 AM on December 9, 2010


I think it's odd that anyone naturally reads "it's" as "it is", since 99% of the time in written text, 's signifies possessive case.
posted by empath at 6:19 AM on December 9, 2010


Stylistically, as nadawi exemplifies above, sometimes it is necessary to skip punctuation or and capital letters. Sometimes one must type in all caps. Sometimes one must use perfect grammar and spelling. These are the tools of the expert Internet commentor.

its an science
!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:19 AM on December 9, 2010


Then again, they're/their/there mistakes drive me up a wall. This one, not so much.
posted by empath at 6:20 AM on December 9, 2010


Might not be so great with one of those 'Sex Instructor: First Lesson Free' T-shirts, though YMMV.

I'd demand to see their accreditation.

One slogan confuses me:

'Can I have your MSN? Because I am a Hot Male.'
posted by mippy at 6:20 AM on December 9, 2010


It's always best to check credentials.
MSN=Microsoft Network, Hot Male=hotmail?
posted by SyntacticSugar at 6:27 AM on December 9, 2010


since 99% of the time in written text, 's signifies possessive case.

Except when it's following "it." I get the mental road bump thing, too, when I run across an it's that should be its.
posted by rtha at 6:30 AM on December 9, 2010


I think it's odd that anyone naturally reads "it's" as "it is",

It's a beautiful day!
posted by Miko at 6:39 AM on December 9, 2010


It's not you, it's me.
posted by Miko at 6:39 AM on December 9, 2010


It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Really, I don't think it's possessive 99% of the time. I think it's often a contraction. It's easy to see that.
posted by Miko at 6:40 AM on December 9, 2010


Obviously, "It's" is almost always a contraction, but "it's" is composed of two separate symbols -- "It" and "'s", and "'s" almost always represents possessive case.
posted by empath at 6:44 AM on December 9, 2010


(when not stuck next to "it")
posted by empath at 6:44 AM on December 9, 2010


I mean, really, its and his and hers and theirs are formed out of the same syntactical rule that created "'s" as a signifying possessive case. It's only a quirk of English orthography that possessive pronouns don't include an apostrophe.
posted by empath at 6:49 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


"'s" almost always represents possessive case.

Are you citing something? I don't feel this is totally true in my gut. For example, other constructions where apostrophe-s doesn't represent possessive case:

What's the plan?
Who's going with us?
Where's my hat?
Why's that kid crying?
Sunday's a good day for brunch.
How's that going to work?
That's not a good idea.
Jenny's planning to visit.
Bill's against the idea.
Nighttime's hard to get through.

It's really common.
posted by Miko at 6:49 AM on December 9, 2010


I would hazard a guess that nobody has ever seen "it's" used as a possessive and thought it meant "it is".

Here's the issue: for a second, I do.

I do too. It's how I read the word. It makes me anxious when the disjunction happens, even if only for that split second and then, I have to admit, impacts my opinion of the person who wrote it, because it's such a fundamental usage error. (I react the same way to their/there/they're and your/you're conflations.) I understand that this flags me as judgmental and petty, so I suppose that in some woo-woo cosmic scheme evens things out between me and the "it's" abusers.

Look, I know there's nothing to be done; if people were interested in learning (or retaining) the distinction, they would obviously have done so. But still, it's honestly painful to witness day in and day out.
posted by aught at 6:51 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are you citing something? I don't feel this is totally true in my gut. For example, other constructions where apostrophe-s doesn't represent possessive case:

I'm sure somebody has done some research on this.
posted by empath at 6:53 AM on December 9, 2010


I do too. It's how I read the word. It makes me anxious when the disjunction happens, even if only for that split second and then, I have to admit, impacts my opinion of the person who wrote it, because it's such a fundamental usage error.

"Impact" is not a verb.
posted by empath at 6:54 AM on December 9, 2010


O RLY?
posted by Burhanistan at 6:59 AM on December 9, 2010


Princeton WordNet:

Impact - Verb
•S: (v) impact (press or wedge together; pack together) •S: (v) affect, impact, bear upon, bear on, touch on, touch (have an effect upon) "Will the new rules affect me?"

Elsewhere: Some people argue that impact should not be used as a verb.
Impact has been used as a verb since 1601, when it meant "to fix or pack in," and its modern, figurative use dates from 1935. It may be that its frequent appearance in the jargon-riddled remarks of politicians, military officials, and financial analysts continues to make people suspicious. Nevertheless, the verbal use of impact has become so common in the working language of corporations and institutions that many speakers have begun to regard it as standard. It seems likely, then, that the verb will eventually become as unobjectionable as contact is now, since it will no longer betray any particular pretentiousness on the part of those who use it.
posted by Miko at 7:12 AM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Impact" is not a verb.

You mean it should be "impactify"? "Impactorize"? "Pact-imming"?
posted by Namlit at 7:36 AM on December 9, 2010


We need to maximize the impactfulnessitude of our new workflow model.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:41 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do you want me to deprioritize my current reports until you advise me of a status upgrade?
posted by adamdschneider at 7:53 AM on December 9, 2010


This thread is smarter than I am.
posted by matty at 8:04 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's only a quirk of English orthography that possessive pronouns don't include an apostrophe.

Well, that's stated disingenuously; a great many rules of usage result from quirks that become codified as standard usage. If we disregarded all of them because of that, we'd be writing a (probably difficult to read) different dialect.

Also, wait, isn't the quirk that most possessives do require apostrophes? I base this feeling on my fading knowledge of German -- from which I understood English possessive usage originally derived -- which doesn't use apostrophes for possessives. (Happy to be corrected if I am wrong about this.)
posted by aught at 8:10 AM on December 9, 2010


I still haven't forgiven America for mutilating the meaning of "momentarily". And I never will.
posted by Decani at 8:32 AM on December 9, 2010


"Impact" is not a verb.

impact, v. 1. Variant of the largely redundant phrase have an impact on preferred for its economy. 2. To set type in Impact, like a total dick.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:46 AM on December 9, 2010


Impact is a dick font, it's true.
posted by Mister_A at 8:58 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, wait, isn't the quirk that most possessives do require apostrophes?

Probably a more accurate statement. In any case, it's a quirk that non-pronouns have them while pronouns don't.

There's no logical reason why both "John's going to the dentist" and "John's dentist is on vacation." are both correct and perfectly understandable. while "It's a car with a busted fender." is correct, and "It's fender is busted." is somehow wrong and so confusing that people need to do double takes while reading them.
posted by empath at 9:08 AM on December 9, 2010


(while reading it).
posted by empath at 9:09 AM on December 9, 2010


> > since 99% of the time in written text, 's signifies possessive case.

>Are you citing something? I don't feel this is totally true in my gut.

I'm sure somebody has done some research on this.


LET'S DO THIS THING!

So, here's three (large) lists, for mefi, askme, and meta, listing single word constructions ending with an apostrophe and an s. I'll call these "apo-s forms" or "apo-s", because "'s" is a mess to look at and "apostrophe-s form" is a lot of typing.

(Caveats first: for I'm-lazy structural reasons, my method under-represents the actual use of the apo-s form somewhat because it only captures the first instance of such a form in any given paragraph of a comment. This may or may not induce any skew in the distribution of data, though; it'd depend on whether there's any bias in word order that would put one kind of apo-s form at the start of a paragraph out proportion with it's raw frequency. Also, multi-word apo-s phrases (whether strung together by spaces or hyphens, e.g. "stupid dog's", "ass-swatter's") are counted as just the final word of the phrase ("dog's", "swatter's"), though I'm not convinced those phrases are common enough in practice to really represent any notable skew in the data.)

So, but, yes. There's a really interesting, to me, answer to both the "most uses are of the possessive form" gut feeling and the "no, non-possessive forms are very common" counter-guttery, and that's this:

1. The non-possessive contractional forms likes "it's", "that's", etc appear very often in English text. Looking at the file for the blue, you can see that the top slots are all these sorts of forms: it's, that's, there's, he's, what's, here's, let's, she's, who's are the first nine entries in the file, and between them they account for 886,012 of the 1,371,673 total apo-s forms cited.

That's nine non-possessive forms accounting for over 64% of all uses on the blue. Needless to say, the idea that possessive forms dominate usage in raw terms is shot to hell. They represent at most a healthy minority of attested apo-s forms around here, and there's no reason to assume this is at odds with typical English usage in general.

But!

2. The file for the blue also lists 39,391 distinct apo-s forms. And as you move down the list out of the top slots, you can see that the unambiguously non-possessive forms dry up and plausibly possessive forms take over. Common plausibly possessive forms like people's, one's, someone's, bush's, world's, america's, obama's, god's, and so on have thousands of cites each: these possessive forms are themselves common and recurring, clearly.

I say "plausibly possessive" here because there's no way to know out of context whether e.g. "America's" is possessive or not: the source for any given cite could be a sentence like "I think America's main problem is obese cats", but it could also be "America's got a serious cat obesity problem". I won't speculate what the proportion is, (but if I can think of a simple way to estimate that through search, I may give it a shot), but it's fair at least to say that possessive forms are unquestionably a big representative chunk of these things.

But beyond and more important than the "some possessive apo-s forms are common" point is that the vast, vast majority of distinct apo-s forms that appear on mefi appear to be likely possessives forms. In other words, in terms of the variety of terms to which the possessive-s rule applies, terms to which that possessive-s production rule ("add an apostrophe and an s to indicate a possessive") apply absolutely dwarfs the tiny handful of (very commonly used) items to which only the contractional-s rule ("shorten [word is] to [word's]") applies.

By extension, the number of complementary irregular pronominal forms to which the normal possessive-s rule exceptionally do not apply (its instead of it's, hers instead of her's, theirs instead of their's, etc) is also totally dwarfed by the number of distinct forms to which that normal rule does indeed apply.

So: distinct explicitly non-possessive apo-s forms, and exceptional no-apo-s possessives, are both very uncommon compared to the pool of distinct plausibly possessive apo-s forms in English. There's only a tiny handful of the former two, and a great wealth of the latter. But, that tiny handful of exceptional forms are also each used very commonly, to the point where those (couple dozen or so?) items outnumber all other uses by a healthy margin.

Both perceptions have merit. Neither captures the whole picture.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:30 AM on December 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


TL'DR
posted by Burhanistan at 9:32 AM on December 9, 2010


"Impact" is not a verb.

Chicxulub.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:36 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


rkent: "...But far and away the best entry was the eggplant dish, which was called - I am not making this up - "fried aborigine.""

When I worked at Coca-Cola in Atlanta, one of the cafeteria menus advertised "Fried Orca." I assume they meant okra, not Shamu.
posted by workerant at 9:37 AM on December 9, 2010


"It's fender is busted." is somehow wrong

Its possessiveness somehow tells the tale.

On a related note (easy pie after several hundred of inputs and no OP to refine points and statements anywhere to be seen) we all know the ultimate it's-policing book Eats, shoots and leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss, right? Because if we do, we needn't discuss anything here any more, no matter whether we agree with the author in all points or not. Amazon.co.uk, ironically, provides us with a missing comma in its title. I'd loved to hear what the author said at the moment she found out about this.
posted by Namlit at 9:40 AM on December 9, 2010


Comma missing before "and". And it shouldabeen "inputses", free after Gollum.
posted by Namlit at 9:41 AM on December 9, 2010


Variant of the largely redundant phrase have an impact on

To use another phrase which grinds my gears, YMMV
posted by mippy at 9:45 AM on December 9, 2010


There's no logical reason why both "John's going to the dentist" and "John's dentist is on vacation." are both correct and perfectly understandable. while "It's a car with a busted fender." is correct, and "It's fender is busted." is somehow wrong and so confusing that people need to do double takes while reading them.

Logical reason: It's just how the language happens to work, and it therefore also happens to be how people expect the language to work. When the language doesn't meet that basic expectation, anyone on the receiving end is forced to do work—and come on, nobody likes that.

Analogy: Every car I've ever driven has had the gas cap on the left-hand side. Let's say I rent a car, and upon my first visit to the gas station, having positioned the vehicle such that the pump is of the left, I am faced with the realization that there ain't no hole on the left-hand side of the car. And, what the hell, there's not one on the right side, either. Ugh. Apparently it's behind the license plate??? I can still gas up the car perfectly fine, mind you, but the search takes extra effort that could have been easily avoided had the designer of the car given the slightest consideration to the people who'd have to use the bloody thing. It's an unnecessary annoyance, and it makes the designer seem a bit incompetent.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:52 AM on December 9, 2010


What the hell is wrong with you people?

Is everyone just writing off the whole month of December? "Ehhhhh, it's the holidays. Screw working. Let's hang out at MeTa where everyone is losing their minds."
posted by pineapple at 9:58 AM on December 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


There's no logical reason why both "John's going to the dentist" and "John's dentist is on vacation." are both correct and perfectly understandable. while "It's a car with a busted fender." is correct, and "It's fender is busted." is somehow wrong and so confusing that people need to do double takes while reading them.

Logical reason: It's just how the language happens to work, and it therefore also happens to be how people expect the language to work. When the language doesn't meet that basic expectation, anyone on the receiving end is forced to do work—and come on, nobody likes that.

"Because that's how we do it, THAT'S why" is not a logical reason at all.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:05 AM on December 9, 2010


Surely I have time for both working and losing my mind.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:23 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Because that's how we do it, THAT'S why" is not a logical reason at all.

Sure it is. I think it was Brad Warner who said (misquoted from memory),
If somebody at a zendo tries to explain that "We turn left when getting up from the cushion after zazen because of [blah blah blah attempted citation to early Zen literature]", they're full of it. There's nothing about that in the Shobogenzo or anywhere else. The real reason for "why we turn left when getting up from the cushion" is because you have to do it some way, and this is the way we do it.
posted by Lexica at 10:25 AM on December 9, 2010


There's no logical reason why both "John's going to the dentist" and "John's dentist is on vacation." are both correct and perfectly understandable.

They're different sentences, and context leads you to understanding what is signified by "John's." "John's going" is a pronoun/verb construction, so our minds supply the "is": John is going. "John's dentist" is a pronoun/noun construction, so our minds supply the possessive relationship: "the dentist seen by John." I'm not sure what you meant by "logical reason," since there is very little in language that adheres to strictly logical reasoning, but you can't do this experiment without recgonizing that the context provided by the sentence structure creates the difference there.

While "It's a car with a busted fender." is correct, and "It's fender is busted." is somehow wrong and so confusing that people need to do double takes while reading them.

It causes double takes because in reading we don't expect the noun-verb contraction ("It's") to be followed by another noun ("fender"), especially without an article. That's because we recognize that "it's" is not possessive and don't expect it to be so. Therefore, we read the sentence, however quickly, as "it is fender." That makes no sense, and that's what causes the double take. If you add an implied article, "It is [a] fender," that gets you a little farther, but then you get hung up at "...is busted." Because "It is a fender is busted" is as hard to parse as "it is fender is busted," you have to go back and start over, and come to the realization that the writer has made an error.
posted by Miko at 10:37 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Because that's how we do it, THAT'S why" is not a logical reason at all.

I agree that it is logical, but not in the way wished. It's logical to behave this way, because we have decades, perhaps centuries, of convention under the bridge and therefore, it's easier for everyone to comprehend my meaning when I follow the convention. Why the convention originally arose may not be logical to us today, but it's likely it solved a problem at the time. But even if not, it's logical enough to stop at a red light just because that's the way we do it. If we don't, we are likely to get into trouble, because other people expect us to stop at red lights. If I don't stop at a light, THEN I might be in a crash, which is pretty logical.

If we needed a logical underpinning for every bit of language we utter, we'd need to give up entirely. If language arose directly and inevitably from nature, with no cultural goop to soften and mush it all up, thousands of linguists and neuroscientists would be out of business. It's not very cut and dried.
posted by Miko at 10:41 AM on December 9, 2010


it'd depend on whether there's any bias in word order that would put one kind of apo-s form at the start of a paragraph out proportion with it's raw frequency.

WAIT JUST ONE MINUTE
posted by chinston at 10:44 AM on December 9, 2010


"Because that's how we do it, THAT'S why" is not a logical reason at all.

Language is not logical in the sense that you seem to mean. What language is is mostly "because that's how we do it, and that's how we've been doing it for [a long time now]." Don't pick this hill as the one to die on.
posted by rtha at 10:46 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, "impacted" is definitely a verb. Red leader said it, and that settles it.
posted by chinston at 10:47 AM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lexica, I'm reminded of the drill Sargent saying: There are two ways of doing things, the wrong way or the Army way.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:55 AM on December 9, 2010


"Because that's how we do it, THAT'S why" is not a logical reason at all.

Did I say it was? That's just the reason for the reason; the reason is that improper usage doesn't meet the reader's expectations, which causes confusion, which hinders effective communication.

It's a tremendously simple rule. Arbitrary, yes, but simple. Appearing not to have mastered it is appearing really fucking stupid. Maybe you don't mind looking stupid. Fair enough. Maybe your potential employers do.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:56 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's no logical reason why both "John's going to the dentist" and "John's dentist is on vacation." are both correct and perfectly understandable. while "It's a car with a busted fender." is correct, and "It's fender is busted." is somehow wrong and so confusing that people need to do double takes while reading them.

There IS a pattern to it: "its" is a possessive pronoun. It's in the same family as "mine," "his," "hers," "ours" and "theirs."

So just as we don't write "that's mine's ball," we also don't write "that's it's ball." In other words, we only use apostrophes to indicate possession when a word is not intrinsically possessive. "John" is not possessive. You have to add a 's to it to make it so. "His" is already possessive, so it would be redundant to write "Hi's" or "His'" or "His's."

True, the choice of apostrophe-s for making something non-possessive possessive is arbitrary. But all symbol choices are arbitrary.
posted by grumblebee at 11:14 AM on December 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Because that's how we do it, THAT'S why" is not a logical reason at all."

Did I say it was?

Yes. You said that "It's just how the language happens to work" was a logical reason.


It's a tremendously simple rule. Arbitrary, yes, but simple. Appearing not to have mastered it is appearing really fucking stupid. Maybe you don't mind looking stupid. Fair enough. Maybe your potential employers do.


Getting mad about apostrophe mistakes is really fucking stupid, and makes you look stupider than someone who doesn't care about correcting mistakes in their casual writing. Do you really believe that potential employers are going to troll my Metafilter account to see how many times I've confused "its" and "it's"? How I write on this website is not going to affect my employment opportunities at all.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:38 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think we can all agree that anyone who get's overly bothered by these things is lousy in bed.
posted by Mister_A at 11:44 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


So just as we don't write "that's mine's ball," we also don't write "that's it's ball." In other words, we only use apostrophes to indicate possession when a word is not intrinsically possessive. "John" is not possessive. You have to add a 's to it to make it so. "His" is already possessive, so it would be redundant to write "Hi's" or "His'" or "His's."

Yes, but His is the saxon genitive of "He", just as John's is the Saxon genitive of John. In spoken language, there's no difference between Johns and John's and it's and its. You get the meaning from context. And anybody who isn't mentally deficient in some way should be able to figure out whether you mean plural, possessive or a contraction from context. It's certainly not worth having even a moment's stress about unless you're trying to impress someone with your communication skills.
posted by empath at 11:46 AM on December 9, 2010


Getting mad about apostrophe mistakes is really fucking stupid, and makes you look stupider than someone who doesn't care about correcting mistakes in their casual writing.

No. It might make you look more uptight or cranky, but not stupider.

How I write on this website is not going to affect my employment opportunities at all.

Because MeFi uses nicknames and you presumably don't have your real name in your profile, probably not.

I guess my feeling, as someone who posts frequently to a site that involves extensive discussion of opinions and purported facts about things noticed on the web, is that other site users might justifiably negatively assess my reliability both for remembering facts and communicating my opinion, based on whether I seem not to know this basic rule of punctuation.

Of course, you might not care, which is your prerogative, and you might well consider those folks to be uptight judgmental asshats, but it's still probably true that someone out there will find it less likely that you know what you're talking about if, when you're making your important and insightful comment or post, you conflate "its" and "it's".
posted by aught at 12:05 PM on December 9, 2010


Impacted is indeed a verb it just... well... used to mean something else.

This is one of those things that used to drive my mother (both a nurse and an English teacher, sometimes concurrently) crazy. She would often find herself screaming at newscasts - "If you're IMPACTED, you should see a proctologist!"
posted by sonika at 12:07 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


No. It might make you look more uptight or cranky, but not stupider.

Naw, I actually did mean that you look stupider. Thanks, though.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:15 PM on December 9, 2010


If a hypothetical future employer went to the effort of looking up what I was typing on a website, and the best thing they could come up with to worry about was whether I transposed its and it's on occasion, I would fire them.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:15 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


And anybody who isn't mentally deficient in some way should be able to figure out whether you mean

This is true for a whole lot of stuff in the English language besides it's and its. Why not spell deficient difishunt? Why figure instead of figyer, or figger? Why not just abandon you're and their in favor of your and there if the context makes it obvious which one you mean?
posted by rtha at 12:23 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying it doesn't matter at all. I'm saying it doesn't matter very much. And in terms of errors one can make in spelling in grammar, mixing up it's and its, is so minor that's it's not even worth mentioning unless you want to be an obnoxious pedant.
posted by empath at 12:38 PM on December 9, 2010


There are several huge, professionally-designed-and-printed banners hung at a shopping mall down the street from me that say "You're Parking Strickly Forced." Every time I see them I think about the multiple illiterate people who must have had to sign off on those in order for them to have seen the light of day (at a minimum: real estate management company employee, graphic designer, print shop employee, a supervisor or two).

The English as she is spoke and wrote, I loves her dearly, yes I do.
posted by killdevil at 12:54 PM on December 9, 2010


Why not spell deficient difishunt?

Because there's no common word spelled "difishunt" or a conflict of generalized rules that creates the likelihood that one would type one instead of the other in error.

it's vs. its feels more like transposing the central vowels in "receive" than some arbitrary and radical break with a traditional spelling. There's even something in common there: a general rule that has an "except" in it.

- i before e, except after c
- 's for a possessive, except for irregular pronominal possessives

In both cases there's an easily stated guideline for generating bits of written language; in both cases, there are contradictions to the rule that apply to a subset of likely situations.

So we learn that possessives get a 's after them. General rule, brain does a great job with that one because it's broad and easy to apply.

Except we also learn that for pronouns, possessives are irregular forms that don't take an apostrophe. We learn those forms from rote, and, okay: his, hers, theirs, mine, yours, ours, its.

Some of these things are not like the others, though: its is the only one, notably, that is the same except for an apostrophe from another very common pronominal form. That there is more confusion of its and it's than there is of e.g. hers and her's should not be surprising and should be viewed mostly as an understandable emergent property of natural language processing neurohardware encountering a clusterfuck than some kind of troubling intellectual failing on the part of J. Random Languageuser.

For that matter, look at theirs and yours vs. his and mine. You see errors with variations of the former at a greater rate than you see with the latter (their/there/they're, your/you're are common grammar gripes/snipes, his and mine I am not familiar with common fuckups regarding); those same common errors once again accompany the deep commonality of two or three very common tokens. Beyond the "here's the rule, except here's a contradiction" thing going on, there's the further handicap that our pattern recognition systems can't even go "oh, but [alternative] isn't very likely" for the erroneous output because they're both the correct and incorrect options are common bits of language glue.

Which, this is not an argument against the value of editorial oversight or of consistency in formal language practices. The wary writer will do well to well to mind their apostrophes. Better not to prejudice the reader against you through small errors if it'd cause you problems.

But that people even have to mind such things is an expression of the mismatch between the formal rules of the writing system and the language production rules that exist in the brains of every human who has to learn that writing system. The way we acquire language is nothing short of stunning, but the brain, clever as it is, can be its own worst enemy when rules start to interrupt each other. People capable of communicating with tremendous fidelity will also make small, recoverable errors on the details at times.

So while there is considerable formal and social value (varying a lot by context) in hewing to language conventions, that is something that stands aside from the fundamental communicative feat that we're all constantly pulling off. At a certain point, mistaking the difference between a 99.9% success rate and a 99.5% success rate for a yawning gap justifying e.g. an appearance of "fucking stupidity" per Sys Rq's formulation is itself forest-for-the-trees foolishness. If "its" vs "it's" is filling that much of your view, your eye is far too close to the page. Which, if your eye is paid to be there, may be the right thing, but nobody here is paid to eye random fellow mefite's offhand chatter like that.

Bringing it back around, the distinction between a small punctuation error in one of the weirdest complicated clusterfucks of irregular pronoun rules for written English and reverting arbitrarily to a phonetic system of spelling is kind of a big one, is my take.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:58 PM on December 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


Bob the Angry Flower weighs in.
posted by aught at 1:27 PM on December 9, 2010


In spoken language, there's no difference between Johns and John's and it's and its. You get the meaning from context.

Spoken language and written language, though, are processed differently, in different parts of the brain. We evolved to speak, but we have not yet evolved to read. Where there's not a moment's hesitation in perceiving the meaning of the two sentences in spoken language, the brain reading the wrong "it's" does encounter first a misleading red herring, and then a need for a mental correction, when reading the nonstandard spelling in written language. Like it or not, it happens.
posted by Miko at 1:49 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cortex said what I was trying to get at much more eloquently.
posted by empath at 2:05 PM on December 9, 2010


.Where there's not a moment's hesitation in perceiving the meaning of the two sentences in spoken language, the brain reading the wrong "it's" does encounter first a misleading red herring, and then a need for a mental correction, when reading the nonstandard spelling in written language.

You keep ignoring the fact that the 'standard' usage is irregular. Many intelligent people have to stop and think while they are writing to remember which one is correct.
posted by empath at 2:07 PM on December 9, 2010


> I was always taught by my American parents that placement of the period inside or outside of quotation marks or parentheses is dependent.

Nope. I mean, you can put periods wherever you like, of course, but if your prose comes under the cruel gaze of an American copyeditor (or, if you prefer, copy editor) like myself, all your periods and commas will be moved inside the quotes where they belong. Punctuation is no more logical than any other aspect of language, or indeed humanity. It is what it is.
posted by languagehat at 2:15 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Like it or not, it happens.

I do wonder if there's an aspect of training to this, though. There's no argument that it doesn't happen, but it may for reasons of differing reading style happen more to some folks than others, to the point where one person can reasonably say "this error trips me up most of the times that I encounter it" while another can say "this really doesn't slow me down most of the time", with the two people being equivalently fluent readers and writers and both correctly assessing their reactions to that given error.

It's also possible that even if the actual mental cost in correction time to resolve an incorrect-its in writing is in fact the same for the two people, the one attending to the error more consciously perceives (and, on account of any mental derailing prompted by the distraction I suppose, genuinely experiences) more of a disruption than the person for whom it slides by. So not so much the brain reacting to the its/it's error so much as the brain reacting to the conscious idea of encountering the error.

So someone who has worked as an editor may be hyper-attentive to errors that they would not be had they never taken up that line of work, for example, the way that folks who have done movie projection have a hard time not seeing the cigarette burns.

It's worth pointing out that error correction and delayed parsing certainly happens in both speech and writing; as I said, these systems are not fundamentally distinct even if significant parts of the processing of spoken vs. written speech do differ. "The horse raced past the barn fell" is as provocative of a garden-path double-take in speech as it is in writing, for example. So I'd wonder if folks who aren't tripped up by its/it's errors are effectively delaying the processing of the details of "its/it's" in a sentence until such time as either the meaning is clear (in which case the specifics don't matter) or the meaning has come into question (at which point reviewing the spelling and trying to resolve the question of an error becomes something they attend to). That actively tripping up on the its/it's thing is not universally something that "happens" so much as something that "can happen", and how often and when it happens may vary from person to person for a variety of reasons.

I'm not a neurolinguist; this is me brainstorming.

But, anyway, for my part (and this no doubt influences the ideas above) I don't find myself being distracted by its/it's errors in reading, certainly not to the point that I could even recall the last time specifically that I noticed one in passing while reading for pleasure. But I'm also guilty of committing the error on a regular basis. I wouldn't be shocked if there's a relationship there as well.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:19 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


You keep ignoring the fact that the 'standard' usage is irregular.

When I was a kid, we lived in France for a while, and I went to a bilingual school. In our French language class (and all the other classes taught in French), we had dictation, every day. The teacher would read a paragraph and we would write it down, and then it got corrected. Miss an accent, use the wrong one, or put in the wrong place? Points off! Same for misspellings, of course. In other exercises, we had to fill in blanks with the correctly conjugated form of a verb.

And oh, man, does French have a lot of irregular verbs and spellings and constructions and all the damn languagey things. But we were drilled and drilled and corrected, and we learned them. I don't remember how or when I learned it's vs its - I sure wasn't taught English the way I was taught French.

In any case, I promise to not correct anyone unless they ask, or unless I'm being paid to do so.
posted by rtha at 2:32 PM on December 9, 2010


Miko, this maybe one of those cases where your experience and others' experiences may not always parallel.

I know a LOT of people who make this mistake and virtually none of them perceive it or understand it in the same way you do. It doesn't trip them up a bit. They don't even notice. You are trained to. They don't care. It's quite likely that they do this because they are "aural" learners, not "visual" learners. Me, I'm a visual learner, so I see the mistake. They're sounding out stuff in their heads as they read, not actually SEEING the differences, so they just don't catch it. It isn't a speedbump for them. So to call these folks out on this type of thing is probably similar to hassling a colourblind spouse about picking out paint.

I work at a job where I edit my boss and colleagues all. day. long. They're smart people. They get it. They just a) don't care and b) don't see it. They Just. Don't.

not to mention the part where for mobile users the apostrophe is really time consuming to get to on an iOS keyboard whilst typing fast on the fly, coupled with the fact that mobile devices' autocorrect "feature" practically never works as you expect.

so there is that.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:50 PM on December 9, 2010


Punctuation is no more logical than any other aspect of language, or indeed humanity. It is what it is.

It's what it's.

coupled with the fact that mobile devices' autocorrect "feature" practically never works as you expect.

After reading a bit of "Damn You, AutoCorrect!" I now expect that, whenever I type "ana" it will be corrected to "anal."
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:27 PM on December 9, 2010


Many intelligent people have to stop and think while they are writing to remember which one is correct.

Oh, and sure - for writing, which is yet another combination of separate skills the brain jury-rigs itself to do, people sometimes do have to stop and think to remember the standard method. Or even look it up. I know I do; there are certain words or phrases I can't remember correctly for the life of me. My point is that there are three reasons why it pays to care what the standard convention is and to use it: first, because it's considerate to the reader; second, because it reduces the chance that people with sharp visual memory will be distracted by the variance from convention; and three, because it will not send signals that you didn't take the trouble to proof what you were writing. Does it matter to me on MeFi? Not really; it's rare, and it's usually a mistake, and even if not I'm not going to get all nutso on someone who's writing socially on a website. Different kinds of documents. But I can't make myself not notice.

Even aural learners aren't sounding words out in their head unless they're at a very low level of literacy. Reading is reading, whether you are an auditory, visual, mechanical, kinetic, or any other kind of learner - it's a learned skill, and though you can attack the initial learning using different approaches, the aim is to make reading automatic, something one doesn't have to engage the self-conscious mind to do. Ultimately, most people read by using swift pattern-recognition techniques, which are quite prone to error but handy enough, since the brain likes to be efficient. Sounding out is actually something we only revert to on totally unfamiliar words, and it's not a terrific guide to the actual sounds of words. at that.

Miko, this maybe one of those cases where your experience and others' experiences may not always parallel

This isn't personal or something based on my own individual experience. As an educator trained in cognitive theory, as well as the teaching of literacy, I certainly understand that others don't take as much notice of it. My argument is that when writing for a broad audience, that doesn't matter; some will notice it and be distracted by it. That's why we have such a job as editor; if no one noticed or cared, it would be entirely unnecessary. Of course, we'd have a hell of a time reading anything or making ourselves understood if we all did our own idiosyncratic version of writing. Which is why we have conventions in the first place: to smooth and systematize reading and make it easier.

I've also taught underserved populations, and this is no casual matter for debate when it comes to people trying to break a class barrier. Good usage is a total shibboleth, and one of the fastest ways to get locked out of rising academically or professionally is not to be conversant with it. Privileged classes are far more versed in standard usage, and it becomes a de facto filtering device; they can deride and critique it, but they generally know how to use it. People coming from other backgrounds do not have the liberty to ignore it - it becomes a class marker, is confused with low intelligence, and can withhold progress at many stages.
posted by Miko at 3:36 PM on December 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Look, I wasn't going to say anything, because it's a thread about "its", but since we got derailed by "impact", it must be open-season on language peeves, right?

If you must use a phrase from another language, spell it right. It's "ad nauseam", not "ad nauseum". If you are not certain, not rock-solid 100% certain, of the spelling of a foreign phrase, and you can't be bothered to look it up, use the English equivalent. ("You go on and on, ad nauseam" can be neatly translated as "You go on and on until I think I'm gonna puke.")
posted by gingerest at 3:39 PM on December 9, 2010


MetaFilter: You go on and on until I think I'm gonna puke.
posted by Miko at 3:45 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


nots everyones heres is a natives speaker.'
posted by krautland at 5:00 PM on December 9, 2010


If other people didn't make mistakes how would you ever know you're better than them?
posted by rocket88 at 5:24 PM on December 9, 2010


That's "better than they".
posted by gingerest at 5:32 PM on December 9, 2010


Which would you prefer: an online conversation with someone who had impeccable grammar and spelling, or an online conversation with someone who had something interesting to say?
posted by davejay at 5:45 PM on December 9, 2010


I would probably prefer someone who didn't mismatch his tenses. Dammit.
posted by davejay at 5:46 PM on December 9, 2010


Cash would be fine, if that's an option.
posted by Abiezer at 5:50 PM on December 9, 2010


> I would probably prefer someone who didn't mismatch his tenses. Dammit.

Your tenses were impeccable. Why did you think they weren't?
posted by languagehat at 6:20 PM on December 9, 2010


I don't understand why people use the phrase "good on you". Is there a popular culture source for this phrase?
posted by effluvia at 6:45 PM on December 9, 2010


Isn't it one of those constructions in English that's influenced by the patterns of Irish?
posted by Abiezer at 6:47 PM on December 9, 2010


Which would you prefer: an online conversation with someone who had impeccable grammar and spelling, or an online conversation with someone who had something interesting to say?

The best part: you don't have to choose!
posted by Miko at 7:38 PM on December 9, 2010


I had an Aussie boss who used the phrase "Good on you" all the time. More about that.

He also used the phrases "damn Skippy" and "on your bikes!" a lot. I picked up the latter from him, and still use it to mean "let's get ready."
posted by Miko at 7:45 PM on December 9, 2010


When usage outpaces rules, then its the rules that change, not the usage.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:55 PM on December 9, 2010


I prefer to think of them as conventions, rather than rules. Some people's grammar is unconventional.
posted by rocket88 at 8:04 PM on December 9, 2010


Grocer's apostrophe, too

Do you mean "grocers' apostrophe", or is it just one grocer who punctuates like that?
posted by surenoproblem at 9:30 PM on December 9, 2010


Why, thank you Miko for the source references. "Good on you" still sounds really awkward to me. It also annoys me when the BBC uses the phrase "Hits out at" to describe a retort. How about 'protest', 'retort', 'rebuttal'. Unless it's a boxing match.
posted by effluvia at 10:06 PM on December 9, 2010


>Grocer's apostrophe, too

>>Do you mean "grocers' apostrophe", or is it just one grocer who punctuates like that?


It feels like it's supposed to be short for "a grocer's apostrophe." Similar to "a baker's dozen," ya normally include the "a."
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:07 AM on December 10, 2010


"Good on you" still sounds really awkward to me.

That's coz it's not pronounced that way, nice pick up. It's pronounced "goodonya." Maybe there's even a case to say it's pronounced "g'donya."

"Good day" is pronounced "g'day." It's like that.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:11 AM on December 10, 2010


It's "Its". Mefites are unusually smart and literate people. It seems weird to me how often mistakes like this are made.

Maybe they just present themselves as unusually smart and literate...but they aren't.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:31 AM on December 10, 2010


It feels like it's supposed to be short for "a grocer's apostrophe." Similar to "a baker's dozen," ya normally include the "a."

But it's not
[an apostrophe] of the sort that are used by [a grocer]
(which would be "a grocer's apostrophe"), it's
[an apostrophe] of the sort that are used by [grocers]
(and thus "a grocers' apostrophe").
posted by Lexica at 8:30 AM on December 10, 2010


You're neglecting the "[an apostrophe] of the sort used by [the prototypical grocer]" analysis, though. If you can have a man's man, you can have a grocer's apostrophe.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:39 AM on December 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yes. What cortex said.
posted by pineapple at 8:44 AM on December 10, 2010


the other day my girlfriend heard a drug dealer hawking "rocks's" (pron. rock-siz). we thought it was really cute.
posted by generalist at 8:56 AM on December 10, 2010


Or even really precious.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:10 AM on December 10, 2010


We're y'all aware that the grocer's particular plate of beans has been overthought on AskMe already?
posted by Miko at 10:13 AM on December 10, 2010


Also I'm working on a xmas present for corpus linguists this morning. I'm relieved not to have actually DOSed the mefi server in the process, though I'm not done yet.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:15 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've worked for three magazines where I used the following phrases according to their stylebooks: "farmer's market," "farmers' market," "farmers market."

I learned long ago that I have better things to care about when I'm going through editing, and the only thing that matters is what the stylebook says.
posted by klangklangston at 11:02 AM on December 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


The writings of Erasmus
Erasmus' writings
Erasmus's writings

The ears of the dogs
The dog's ears (one dog two ears)
The dogs' ears (multiple dogs with multiple ears)
It's in one's best interest?
See, I just thought everyone was just always talking about and going on about the D double prime (D'') layer [PDF] but making a typo, of the earth core mantle boundary zones! Because of which, a day bees not a day.

When in doubt. (no really, it's not really that simple a set of easy to follow rules, one might almost call it a Byzantine Labyrinth of Punctuation Articulation Adjudication; internet! I need a flow chart for all possible Apostrophe usage!)
Q. I’m writing a book about Death Valley National Park, and not sure what style to use for place-names that include possessives. The National Park Service omits apostrophes from all names—Scottys Castle, Dantes View, Devils Golf Course, etc.—which looks wrong to me. On the other hand, if I use the apostrophes my book won’t match the Park Service maps. What would you suggest?

A. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine a “correct” version of a place-name, but unless you are sure that one of these names is a plural attributive rather than a possessive (e.g., Devils Golf Course), you need an apostrophe. If you feel better including a note in your book that the Park Service uses its own spellings, do so.

Q. The following sentences were written by a student. “The three of us went to the Rangers’ hockey game. The leprechaun is the Celtics’ mascot.” Are apostrophes needed or do the sentences contain attributive nouns?

A. In these cases, the attributive might be more conventional, but the possessive is not wrong, and I would hate to discourage a student’s correct use of apostrophes. I’d give her a gold star, along with an explanation of the alternative styling as attributives.

....
This book review is Good-funny and topical!
(“When referring to decades, most professional writers today omit the apostrophe: hence, 2010s instead of 2010’s.”)
It is frustrating that I cannot find more works by Cecil Hartley online, I wanted to quote arcane knowledge from 1818 'principles of punctuation' or 'The art of pointing', without having to type them; ah well.

In the 'Gentlemen's Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness', are some interesting things. Punctuation is addressed.
posted by infinite intimation at 1:08 PM on December 10, 2010


Grammar Nazi's usually ruin the pool party.
posted by jnnla at 3:58 PM on December 10, 2010


Okay, here's a question: If you're personifying a titled creation (e.g. "Gone With The Wind") and want to form a possessive noun out of it, assuming you're using quotation marks to mark the title as a title, where do you put the apostrophe?

I like "Gone With the Wind's" plot.

I like "Gone With the Wind"'s plot.

The second is more logical, because the apostrophe is not part of the title. But the first is easier to read.
posted by grumblebee at 10:23 AM on December 11, 2010


Oh, by the way, I have always been confused about whether you should add an apostrophe-ess or just an apostrophe if the root word ends in an ess. Is it Marcus' or Marcus's? I've read up on it, and, in fact, there's no agreement (though, as usual, there's not shortage of passionate stances!)

Recently, someone solved the problem for me. I wish I could remember who. Someone writing about grammar. Anyway, he said let sound govern it. In other words, it's Marcus's, because that's how you say it ("It's Marcuses toy.") On the other hand, it's Arkansas', because you would never say "Those are Arkansawses laws."

Other people may disagree with this rule, but I find it sensible and elegant. So I'm going to follow it.
posted by grumblebee at 10:31 AM on December 11, 2010


Anyway, he said let sound govern it. In other words, it's Marcus's, because that's how you say it ("It's Marcuses toy.") On the other hand, it's Arkansas', because you would never say "Those are Arkansawses laws."

Probably not the best example, as the final s in Arkansas is silent, which would necessitate an additional, audible s if one were going by sound.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:38 AM on December 11, 2010


You're right. Here are some better examples:

Charles Dickens' novel.

Jesus's cross.
posted by grumblebee at 10:43 AM on December 11, 2010


Okay, here's a question: If you're personifying a titled creation (e.g. "Gone With The Wind") and want to form a possessive noun out of it, assuming you're using quotation marks to mark the title as a title, where do you put the apostrophe?

I like "Gone With the Wind's" plot.

I like "Gone With the Wind"'s plot.


I think the sane thing to do would be to rephrase it: I like the plot of "Gone With The Wind."
posted by amyms at 1:38 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Charles Dickens' novel.

I've been sitting here muttering the two versions to myself, and I think that if I were speaking about a novel written Charles Dickens I'd refer to it "charlz dikenzez nohvell" not "charlz dikenz nohvell".
posted by Lexica at 2:22 PM on December 11, 2010


I think the sane thing to do would be to rephrase it: I like the plot of "Gone With The Wind."

I disagree. I think "Gone With the Wind's" plot sounds much more natural. It's the way most people would phrase it when speaking casually. This is why we have possessive nouns. You could get rid of all of them if you wanted to. Change "John's ball" to "the ball belonging to John." No thanks.

There needs to be a way to punctuate that phrasing. I don't think you should have to rephrase something to avoid complicated punctuation.
posted by grumblebee at 4:07 PM on December 11, 2010


Cortex said what I was trying to get at much more eloquently.

I was also trying to get at it much more eloquently.
posted by albrecht at 4:48 PM on December 11, 2010


I think "Gone With the Wind's" plot sounds much more natural. It's the way most people would phrase it when speaking casually.

Oh definitely, I agree with you there. If I were speaking it, I would say it that way, but I thought you were asking about writing it. There are lots of things that sound perfectly normal in speech but are hard to parse in print. In that case, it's better to rephrase.
posted by amyms at 5:48 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, we understand each other. We just don't agree with each other. I think "Gone with the Wind's" plot is better in print BECAUSE it is more speech-like. I don't think writing should always sound like speech, but in general I think the more speech-like, the better. I'm not fond of writing that calls attention to itself as writing.

Actually, I don't think there's anything unclear about "Gone with the Wind's" plot, and it has a nice, natural, sound to it -- a speech-like sound which, to me, makes it good writing. I was just wondering what the "official" rule was about apostrophe-esses in such cases.
posted by grumblebee at 7:32 PM on December 11, 2010


It depends on the style guide, but I'm pretty sure most commonly you'd see "Gone With the Wind"'s plot. However, this is exactly why many style guides for print media lean toward some other way of denoting titles, usually italics.

I think that if I were speaking about a novel written Charles Dickens I'd refer to it "charlz dikenzez nohvell" not "charlz dikenz nohvell".

If you had to say it often - say, you were an English professor lecturing on Dickens once a week - the latter would swiftly become easier. However, you can find instances in which both are considered correct. There's no definitive answer here, but I can definitely report that in lecturing, the latter, "Dickens'," is far more common than the stumbly-redundant-sounding "Dickens's."
posted by Miko at 7:57 PM on December 11, 2010


Okay, here's an example that I HOPE isn't ambiguous: "actors."

"Meryl Streep and Al Pacino don't eat with the crew. They eat at the actors' table."

I hope no one (unless his name is Gollum) would pronounce that "actorszez table," so I advocate "actors'" and not "actors's."
posted by grumblebee at 8:03 PM on December 11, 2010


But that's a plural s. Plural s always becomes s'.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:11 PM on December 11, 2010


Sys Rq is right; you'd have to go with something like "Seamstress' table."
posted by Miko at 8:16 PM on December 11, 2010


grumblebee: "I think "Gone with the Wind's" plot is better in print"

But if you're already writing it, why not write Gone With The Wind's plot?
posted by Night_owl at 8:23 AM on December 13, 2010


The writer doesn't always have control of how titles are indicated.
posted by grumblebee at 9:59 AM on December 13, 2010


The writer doesn't always have control of how titles are indicated

That's exactly why a lot of style guides are written to avoid this problem. MLA and APA, for instance, says titles of major works should be italicized. But the Associated Press uses quotation marks for all titles. However, the confusing possessive construction is really easy to avoid in writing, so most do. Even if a writer left it in, an editor would probably rephrase it to remove the funny-looking quotation marks. Sometimes, though, there's nothing you can do about it.
posted by Miko at 10:39 AM on December 13, 2010


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