Thursday, December 20, 2007

Meow Friend The Apostrophe, Apostrophe Meow Friend Is

The apostrophe is fairly complex animal. As an instrument of contractions, it serves the cause of brevity, but it is a conditional contract...


"She's a curious cat, as curious as cats can be, she is."

Which, despite the license to end as it does, cannot be:

"She's a curious cat, as curious as cats can be, she's."

There's also tension with tenses, with different educators differing on whether "She's" could be a contraction for "She was". Academically, I tend to side with the restricted sense, based on a phonological viewpoint:

Let's assume that "she's" could be "she is" or "she was". This rings true, literally, because the "s" sound from each of the verbs-to-be lends itself to the contractions they serve.

However, consider "they're" as "they are" or "they were" - unless we pronounce the past tense version as "they-er" instead of "they-ar", there seems to be a contradiction. Har har.

On the other hand, the apostrophe may not want to be past-ed over; after all, "I will" = "I'll" but "I would" = "I'd", unless one considers that the true past tense would be "I would have", which would then be "I would've".

Then there's the function of the apostrophe as an indicator of possession, as in "Harry's car is a piece of junk, a piece of junk Harry's car is." Which Harry Potter fans will turn temporarily dyslexic and read as "Harry's scar is oh so funk, so funky Harry's scar is."

Now in this respect, the apostrophe can work for others too:

"The cat's long tail swished and swaggered,
a sign of a significant end."

And yet, not without the use of the... what's the word... determinant (I think), in this case "the". Consider why this is borderline in the arena of grammatical correctness:

"Cats' tails, even when they flail, still win, cats' tails do."

Though I do think I'd get away with it. Not to mention that when used for possession, the apostrophe is indispensable, as contrasted to contractions. Seen another way, there is no other way to write without the application of the apostrophe, and its arranged marriage to the letter S. And here the more perceptive - or the most nitpicky - may have noted the use of the one exception to possession: "its".

Then there's my golden question, which no university professor has been able to answer:

If "The cats of KFC" = "KFC's cats"
Then is "The cats of McDonald's" = "McDonald's's cats"?

I like the apostrophe, I do. It's brief, aesthetically somehow somewhat more elegant than the comma, especially when handwritten or in san serif fonts not yet available on Blogger. It also has a sense of mystery, of ambiguity, or carefully determined undecidedness that make some people interesting.

Like cats, they don't sell their loyalty easily, and more importantly, send a philosophical message: even the essence of possession comes with a certain agreed, comfortable, reliable... dependency.


stev said...


very well written piece that

cats may even be better than pandas! mmm...

AF said...

Hey, thanks for the comment - I went back and read that post on pandas. Didn't even remember that I had written it - and it is weird that I'm going to be in the same sort of position soon i.e. moving to a new school. Was nice walking down memory lane, as it were.

AF said...

Also, ironically, in that older post, I had one case of using an apostrophe wrongly - now, of course, corrected. :P