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Apostrophe society shuts down because 'ignorance and laziness have won' (standard.co.uk)
62 points by smacktoward 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 95 comments





My instinct is to mock the ridiculousness of campaigning for correct use of apostrophes. Since english is pretty lawless these days and often gets dragged in new and wonderful directions. It seems stupid to rail against the tide of mutable grammar and syntax. But what about the development of High German and standard Italian? Both are examples where, with sufficient resources and nationalism, you can coalesce a disparate heap of diverge language(s) and make something coherent that people will stick to.

Both of them (and others I can think of) had central government sponsored organisations to help. But english doesn't have anything more formal than the Oxford Dictionary, whoever decides state curriculums, and ESL staff. I wonder what organisations have the biggest impact on contemporary english? Google and Microsoft with their spellcheckers maybe?


The think is we dont need them in spoken English, we understand what people mean. Theres no reason why we need them when we write

I would argue that we convey the same meaning during speech by changing pitch, stressing certain vowels and consonants, etc. Things that we can't do in writing without things like apostrophes.

This is a good point. The way I usually think of this is that most of the time we simply don't need as much redundancy as we have encoded in language. It only becomes important in instructions for complicated things, scientific papers, or when you are communicating over the top of loud noises or a bad phone connection. I don't think explains the forces that shape our language fully, but it does provide a starting point!

Its just simpler to not worry about the apostrophes. Theyre unnecessary for understanding what a sentence is saying. Im confident that future English will be slightly superior once it has eliminated the apostrophe.

Anecdotally I found there is a high correlation between one’s ability to write correct English and one’s ability to write correct code. If I’m in the hiring side and I see a “its” vs “it’s” mistake it counts against you.

A higher correlation is with consistency in spacing. The worst coders I met are the one who keep changing the rules about how many spaces they leave after commas and brackets... within the same file.


> Anecdotally I found there is a high correlation between one’s ability to write correct English and one’s ability to write correct code.

I have been thinking a long time about it and I concluded it is about one being methodical.

A methodic person tends to put extra attention on (all) the tasks they perform, as well as they are more critic to correctness, and those features combined might make them “better programmers”.


I agree, but I think it's more than just being methodical - it's also a sign that someone cares about and respects their co-workers.

People who take the time to write their code carefully understand that they're writing the code for other people to understand, not just for a machine. They're considerate of others, not wanting them to waste their time in the future trying to make sense of sloppy code. The same is true for e-mails, doc and other written communication - if I take an extra minute to make my message clear, it can save a lot of confusion down the road. (This is even true for things like Slack messages and HN comments.)


Absurd oversimplification. What are "better programmers"? There clearly will be a difference in requirements whether you'll be programming assembly code for a space probe or javascript for yet another web site.

Beside, one would think that proper English (which?) grammar and orthography comes easier to native speakers. The same isn't true for Math and logically stringent thinking, which I'd think is more closely related to programming.


Programmers whose code can be more easily read and maintained later would be at least one metric.

Regarding the use of the apostrophe, I don't have any proof but I think it's more often native speakers rather than non-native speakers that make theses mistakes. Especially it's vs its. I would be really curious to have stats on this and more generally on the categories of errors that non-native speakers make compared to native speakers.

I think it's because a non-native speaker has to learn the grammar in a systematic way, as opposed to a more organic/phonetic way. For example we (non-native) learn "it is" before learning "it's", which I imagine is the opposite of a native speaker.


I recently integrated clang format into my editor for my personal projects. It is physically impossible for me to write code that isn't formatted to a consistent style. I don't even like what the default style is, but that doesn't matter, because it's consistent.

It's made me substantially better as a programmer in my personal projects. I'm typing word salad into the editor, and if it formats it wrong I know I've fucked up and need to fix it. It's comparable to the point in my programmer life I decided that every time I declared a variable I would ask myself whether or not I could make it const, and if I couldn't, why not.

It's made me worse at my day job, where all of a sudden I think of formatting as a purely output mechanism, where my tooling says "I think you mean this", but in my work environment it's an I/O mechanism.

It will be twenty years before I have enough clout at my day job to enforce a uniform coding standard.


there's definitely a benefit for this in a team environment. having some kind of consistency makes reviewing easier, not to mention onboarding new people and senior engineers jumping into unfamiliar codebases. even in open source it makes sense. there's a reason go fmt and black (for python) are so popular.

for what it's worth, i don't 100% agree with the decisions black makes, either. but luckily, you don't have to see eye to eye to reap the benefits.

two caveats: it has to be a robust auto-formatter. something like checkstyle is unsuitable, because it creates more work, not less. and the auto-formatting has to be enforced via CI.


I'm visually impaired, among other things. I make some of my money doing freelance writing and I also know a little HTML and CSS.

I refer to editing my own writing as "cleaning" it, an expression borrowed from programming.

It's a pain in the ass for me because of my issues, but the computer or human reader equally don't care. So I just work at it and layer in extra steps.


Anecdotally as well, this extends to other fields besides programming/writing code, though personally I define it as the contrary, i.e. someone that writes "sloppily" (without proper grammar, with typos, etc.) will also work "sloppily", no matter the specific work, paricularly when some "team effort" is needed.

I suspect that at the base there is somehow a lack in communication skills and "education", or more generally a lack of respect for otherwise agreed conventions (grammar and spelling when writing) that is corresponding to a same lack of respect for other people or for the specific conventions/rules that apply to the specific work.


The spacing thing is absolutely baffling. It's actually more work to get it wrong.

Consider automatically enforcing your preferred code style.

It’s not about preferring one style or the other. These developers are blind to white spaces and consistency in general. They semi randomly change style within the same file, even if this is something that they themselves have created from scratch. I had numerous conversations about that with them and they are clueless. Sure they will acknowledge the issue if you point it. However they have the same attitude as OP about apostrophes. They are unnecessary, the code is the same, it’s unimportant and they can’t be bothered... can’t even be bothered to install tools to fix the issue.

Sure. You can automate the white space issue away. But unfortunately the same traits tend to show elsewhere... hence the high correlation between this behavior and the fact that they were terrible coders.


I think you're on to something. I'd bet it is correlated with a person's conscientiousness score. The higher score would both mean less spelling mistakes and tidier code.

Fewer* :)

Glad to know the difference between me having money to survive and being jobless will be a typo.

What, your keystrokes were streamed to the hiring manager as you typed? Writing is not real-time communication, take the time to review it before you send it. I corrected a few typos while writing this comment.

Mistakes can happen even after proofreading.

And if a hiring manager wants to evaluate your proofreading ability and attention to detail, more power to them.

rm -rf / can accidentally go into prod after proof reading.

"Sorry you're bankrupt boss it was just a typo"


Put a different way - isn't it nice to know that the only thing you have to do to avoid being jobless is to spend five minutes proofreading your submissions?

Only if you were right on the border line to begin with.

I cannot express how little sympathy I have for this tale of woe.

That's kind of the problem - lack of sympathy.

That's kind of the problem... hiring managers don't hire people because they feel sorry for them. They hire people because they think those people will be good at doing the work the manager needs to have done.

After working with you side by side for a few weeks, the manager may, in all likelihood, genuinely feel sympathy for a problem you may have (though apostrophe use likely doesn't fall into that category). But that will have been because you earned it by being a colleague.


A typo such as misspelling "principal".

I was once asked by a high school principle why programmers were such terrible writers.

I replied that all the good programmers I know are also good writers. That if you can write an essay, you can code. Because it's all just organizing your thoughts and communication.

Best job interview I ever had asked me to bring writing samples (not just code).


> I was once asked by a high school principle why programmers were such terrible writers.

Was that someone that worked at a high school who had a surfeit of principles, or was it the person that ran the school - ie. a principal?


Your comment reminds me of this classic: http://ashvital.freeservers.com/ze_dream.htm

> In the first year, "s" will be used instead of the soft "c".

> Sertainly, sivil servants will resieve this news with joy. Also, the hard "c" will be replaced with "k". Not only will this klear up konfusion, but typewriters kan have one less letter.

How would you type "ch"?


Ч

Афтер зис фифз йер, ве вил хав а рели сенсибл ритен стил. Зер вил бе но мор трублс ор дификултис анд евривун вил финд ид ези ту ундерстанд еч озер.

Зе дрем вил финали кум тру.

It was fun typing that :)


It was fun to read also :) молодец. й миин, вал данн

Юр екзампль хурт мой брен, анд мой спел-чэк.

Why not just "ch"?

They just removed 'c' from typewriters.

But of course.

tsch or dsch

tsh

Č, obviously. The keyboard's (1) letter c will be repurposed.

(1) I really hope this is a correct usage of the apostrophe.


It is.

The difference between plural and possessive can matter greatly, e.g. decade's (belonging to the particular decade discussed) and decades (more than one decade), etc.

It can, but it's not like having some special rule fixes all confusion. Mostly confusion is solved by having some larger context, not by nitpicky rules.

You could do like in German and force everyone to capitalise nouns. I'm sure there are German grammar pedants who have some reason why that's a good idea, too.

Or clarify that a sentence is a question by making everyone do the upside down "?" sign to wrap the question inside of, like Spanish.


You comment does not give any argument behind it.

If both "it's" and "its" are merged, what, do you also propose merging "weather", "whether"?

Weather that is nice, is nice weather.


The words weather and whether are only rarely mixed up naturally, in contrast to apostrophes.

And even if they were, why not? The pronunciations have already merged, the only reason they're still distinct is because of the immense historical legacy English is carrying around. In Dutch, a sister of English, they're both written "weer".


I don't think that's correct. Plus, "Weer" actually has at least three meanings: "weather", "again", and "keep out"/"avert".

Clarity or confusion? George Bernard Shaw back in 1900 promoted the same idea and his writing was full of its (the abbreviation) and Ives and cant. It still hasn't happened for good reason and most people follow the rules.

With some expressions, those who don't, against the grain, force their readers to double check the parsing. The cost may be only a millisecond or two but it is nevertheless a tiny distraction incurred because someone can't be bothered to follow a simple rule taught in primary school. In the glorious future envisaged in the comment, everyone will ignore the apostrophe so all of us will have to do a bit of extra scanning. What's superior about that?

Is it really that difficult to remember that the apostrophe in it's (for instance), is always without exception used as an abbreviation for 'it is' or 'it has', not an indication of possession and thus your's is wrong.


> Is it really that difficult to remember that the apostrophe in it's (for instance), is always without exception used as an abbreviation for 'it is' or 'it has', not an indication of possession and thus your's is wrong.

From someone who had issues with this for years, just parroting the rule as you did doesn't help, it only made sense after learning the reason why: the possessive form "its" is grouped with "his" and "hers", not "vixen99's" and "Izkata's".


It wouldn't take any more parsing because we'd be used to it. Dutch doesn't have the apostrophe for the possessive (except where a word ends in a vowel, where the rule is opposite to English! At least I have a good excuse for not keeping them straight). Languages are both in writing and in speech inherently immensely ambiguous, something as trivial as whether or not the possessive has an apostrophe will never make the difference. Speakers and writers subconsciously work around it.

> With some expressions, those who don't, against the grain, force their readers to double check the parsing.

Speaking of clarity vs confusion, and forcing readers to double check parsing! Muphry strikes again.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muphry%27s_law


I heard you're idea's and their definatly good.

Language communicates many things. Correct usage of apostrophes or who/whom is like metadata in your writing that communicates “I am at least educated enough to have been in fourth grade, and at least intelligent enough to have retained some pretty basic rules since then, and at least careful enough to give a damn”. It’s a weak signal, but it’s a signal nonetheless, and people aren’t going to give it up.

Moreover, I think of it like how I think of clothes. You dress well not just for yourself but also as a mark of respect to those whom you're about to meet. Properly typed posts convey similar respect.

Also, sorry to invoke the slippery slope argument, but otherwise what's stopping us from devolving all the way back to scriptura continua?


> otherwise what's stopping us from devolving all the way back to scriptura continua?

The facts that

1. People once trained generally do not have a problem identifying word boundaries. There are edge cases, but for whatever reason they don't tend to cause problems.

2. People overwhelmingly agree that marking of word boundaries in text is useful.

Neither of those is true for apostrophes. They're hard for people to remember even after being trained, and they add no value.


They are not hard to remember, and they add value.

Gee it's almost like stating an opinion as though it were a fact is free, and anyone can do it, and it means nothing, and so is a pointless waste of time, which says something about the worth of the insights of whoever does it.


You can clearly see that they are hard to remember by the frequency with which people make errors. That two opinions are stated with the same rhetorical backing doesn't give them the same empirical backing.

ThesamegoesforspacesbutIdon'tthink anybodywouldarguethatwe shouldstopusingthem.

Indeed it is simpler but it changes the meaning of a sentence quite significantly. Correct syntax is important - should I be able to write my C++ without semicolons too?

Next you'll be arguing that we should use "brought" and "bought" interchangeably because they sound similar enough (and it seems everyone I hear thinks they're the same anyway even though they have wildly different meanings).


The Title should have been "Apostrophe Society Shut's Down..."

Im surprised this isnt the top comment. Beautiful compression!

> Apostrophe society shuts down because 'ignorance and laziness have won'

Well, it's that, or the fact that the "founder" is 96 and is cutting back on his hobbies.


I'm as anti-prescriptivist as the next linguist, but I do admit I find the "greengrocer's apostrophe" ugly. Perhaps because it's unnecessary -- confusing "it's" and "its" is a simple enough mistake to make, but the rule for plurals is simply "add an s" and no more effort is required. I suspect I find it galling because people make work for themselves, which somehow makes it worse.

I'm all for people who do guerilla copyediting, fixing incorrect signs, especially if they do so in an amusing way. Just carping about it, however, isn't very productive.


> ignorance and laziness

It’s not just ignorance. Plain ignorance is normally corrected by education. In the case of grammar and spelling, people actually get DEFENSIVE about doing things wrong. “I’m not writing a college essay, you know what I was trying to say” is a common retort when somebody’s spelling or grammar is pointed out to be incorrect. If you can’t even remember the correct rules of written speech in a single language (your NATIVE LANGUAGE), you really ought to step back and consider whether or not you’re really as smart as you think you are.


Fair, but also consider: If the rules are confusing and the proper meaning can be conveyed without following them anyway... maybe it's not worth remembering the minutiae?

What you've just stated, "I'm not writing a college essay, you know what I was trying to say" is covered under the second designation, laziness.

Whomst'd've?

I am'nt

alternatively, "I ain't" which sounds beautiful to my Southern ears (though y'all and ain't are considered uneducated in some places so I unlearned them.)

"The rules Mr Richards gave for apostrophes are: They are used to denote a missing letter or letters, they are used to denote possession and apostrophes are never ever used to denote plurals."

Where is the Oxford Comma Society when you need it!


The most important part:

> The rules Mr Richards gave for apostrophes are: They are used to denote a missing letter or letters, they are used to denote possession and apostrophes are never ever used to denote plurals.


It's not really possible to correct errors like this without being a pretentious ass. It's possible that the apostrophe rules we have today we become outdated a-la the who/whom distinction.

>It's possible that the apostrophe rules we have today we become outdated a-la the who/whom distinction.

Outdated due to ignorance driven by laziness.


Possessive is also contraction: "x's" <- "xes" <- "x his". No citation, but I read that somewhere. Interesting that it started out so primitive-seeming.

I'm afraid that's not true. The 's particle comes from one of the many Old English genitive case endings, namely -es (no apostrophe of course).

Interestingly, this "his genitive" emerged as a backformation of this genitive ending in the 13th century, not only in English but in a few other Germanic languages as well, before dying out a few hundred years later in some of them.


Really the ambigious apostrophed words are themselves analogous to UI design flaws. If most are getting the assumptions wrong then it is the interface which is bad.

Ironic that he doesn’t use contractions in the quoted from the announcement.

very few linguists are prescriptivists. Grammatical rules have always (only) emerged from use, and language is expected to evolve through the decades.

Is the headline of the NYT Times article How to Be a C.E.O., From a Decade’s Worth of Them, an incorrect use of the apostrophe that this society is rallying against?

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/27/business/how-to-be-a-ceo....


Is it not a correct use of the apostrophe to denote possession?

Yes, but not when it's "its".

For example, if there is an autonomous writing machine, its words are not praptak's words nor mine.


Agreed but I was referring specifically to the title. Its only apostrophe is the one in "decade's", which seems correct to me.

Ah, we were talking about two different articles, sorry for the mixup. I was thinking of the Apostrophe Society article, which calls out "it's" vs. "its".

Yes, of course the use of "Decade's" is correct in the article title you're referring to.


No. There is something wrong with that headline, but the apostrophe is not it.

The decade has possession of the experience? A decade of worth is also correct, sans the possessive noun.

“A decade worth” or “a decade’s worth” would be fine, “a decades worth” would not.

If it still doesn’t sound right to you, try “in a year’s time”.


A “year” is possessive in your example, but “decade” is more ambiguous.

[flagged]


> ok boomer

Please keep this nasty trope far away from here.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


It was a joke, but I forgot to include /s

/s does not turn a bad joke into a good one.

> ok boomer

Why would you call a 96-year old a "boomer"?


It was a joke, but I forgot to include /s

Richard, I swear to carry on you’re cause!



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