Phil Gyford

Writing

Thursday 4 December 2003

PreviousIndexNext Its true

Greil Marcus quoting John Humphrys in the Sunday Times quoting Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation:

Truss writes: ‘The confusion of the possessive “its” (no apostrophe) with the contractive “it’s” is an unequivocal sign of illiteracy and sets off a simple Pavlovian “kill” response in the average stickler.’ I think she probably understates the case when she argues that people who persist in writing ‘good food at it’s best’ deserve ‘to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.’ Lightning strikes are altogether too random. There should be a government task force with the single duty of rooting out such barbarians and burning them at the stake.

Comments

Sigh. I hate hate hate that one, but at least there's a logic to the error, given that apostrophe-s is used to signify a possessive in every case but 'its'.

So blame the bloody inconsistent English language as well.

Posted by nick on 5 December 2003, 10:06 am | Link

Oh yeah? Try at least four more: yours (your's?), his (hi's?), hers (her's?), theirs (their's?) plus the obvious ones not ending in 's' -- the difference is that its is a possessive pronoun, just the same as its. Nothing inconsistent about this at all, except perhaps that we use the apostrophe at all (German manages without it but with similar endings).

Posted by simon tortike on 12 December 2003, 8:28 pm | Link

Truss was on the Today programme making this point but was remarkably warm about "greengrocers' quotes".

Posted by paul murphy on 17 December 2003, 10:08 pm | Link