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Updated: March 3, 2012 22:15 IST

Who's mistake's?

Sathya Saran
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Please all you people out there, could you tell friend's, family member's, pet's and other denizen's who inhabit your world, that I am giving free lessons in the use of the hanging-in-the-air comma, also known in knowledgeable circles as the apostrophe. Granted it's a tricky little eel of a language that at its best is a slippery eel that quite escapes one's logical understanding.

I don't have to tell you the old story about how though a teacher teaches and a singer sings, a tailor does not tail, and a butcher does not butch! But the fact remains that considering that even the inscrutable Chinese are setting aside their calligraphy brushes to grapple with the English keyboard, the language is indeed well on its way to becoming one on which the sun might never set.

In other words, it's the done thing today, even in India, to speak, write English, or at least Hinglish and send your children to English medium schools and think that this is the shortest way to becoming a brown sahib after all! But ah, there's the rub. The vocabulary can be expanded, four and five syllable words can be assimilated and kept in the subconscious to be produced like a rabbit out of a hat at appropriate times to suitably impress the interviewer, the editor, or the boy's wedding party, but when it comes to punctuation.... the rabbit bolts! But let me get down to the trickiest part of the punctuation lexicon... the apostrophe.

You know what, it's the age of the apostrophe! The symbol has come into its own; along with email and the tablet, it is possibly one of the most used parts of the language today. What a change! When we were children in school, and in the hoary past before that, the apostrophe has a narrow singular use. It marked the possessive noun. So, a boy's bag, a dog's collar and so on.

The more knowledgeable among us knew that the apostrophe also has a supporting part: It marked missing letters... so do not could become don't, cannot was can't... and it is was it's though this secret was imparted to us with the strict admonition that using such “apostropheed” short forms was not quite what the Queen had decreed as genteel when she wrote the rules of English.

Today of course, the queen is hardly seen in public, and the sms has quite made her language into a creature with missing vital parts. But the apostrophe! It seems to have a life of its own, writing its own rules. So everyone from the school master to the politician believes that the apostrophe is the best way of proving to the world the fact that unlike the other boors in the school or Lower House as the case may be, he has the right English education, punctuation's (sic) and all!

So when the board in my colony, in fact all four of them in bold letters says “Dog's not allowed”, I take my dogs in anyway, as I read the board as saying they are allowed, only their whatever is not, and I have no idea what that is of my dog that is not allowed.. could be his bone, or his bedding... you see?

Shops sell Snack's and Cold drink's, and we have to park our Car's only in parking place's. Oouch. And even my Apple I-pad, possibly coded in by some young data entry geek insists on saying it's every time I wish to say its. Whether he was a South East Asian or an American, is unknown but I cant blame him either, both countries learnt the language second hand too.

Peppering text with the apostrophe has become so common a malady even in England (where they now speak the worst form of English), that I am told a ban is being considered. What then will the wannabes do to show their mastery over English?

Adopt the comma perhaps, as their flag. Or after the Age of Aquarius and the Era of the Apostrophe, who knows it just might be the age of the semi colon! It does look more “educated” than a mere comma! God help us; please; should that day come to pass.

Superb write-up! Would love to Sathya's lucid style more and more. I feel comma too is very difficult a punctuation mark. Look forward to reading a tongue in cheek take on the comma too from Sathya.

from:  Arindam Roy
Posted on: Mar 17, 2012 at 15:32 IST
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