Linguistic Rules and the absence of Abstract Thought

Sunday, December 26, 2010 , Posted by Johnny Fuery at 2:43 PM

It occurred to me in passing yesterday (Merry Christmas) that the English rules around "its" and "it's" represent an absence of abstract thought on the part of linguistic rule-setters.

I, for instance, see nothing logically wrong with this:

The refrigerator is cold. It is cold because someone has set it's temperature control to the lowest setting.
Why can't the refrigerator possess a temperature control? It does, in fact, have one, right? But, alas, Strunk and White tell us to remove the apostrophe.

Obviously, linguistic rule-setters have have never, ever programmed. Every object can have methods and properties. Duuuuh. Did we really need this rule to differentiate "it's" as a contraction from "it's" as a possessive? Has anyone ever actually misunderstood the placement of the apostrophe when incorrectly applied to imply ownership or similar containing relationship?

Disclaimer: this post represents no judgment of liberal arts majors. Excepting, of course for the liberal arts major that happened to set this silly rule. Psssh.

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  1. This post represents terrible news for me, as it is either flying well over my head or reflects my clear failure as a friend. The uses of the apostrophe are not limited to possession; contraction too is indicated, and in fact it is this purpose exclusively that is represented whenever "it's" is correctly deployed.

    (In a broader sense, of course, all language both is, and provides, a representation of absract thought, and is itself capable of presenting many layers of abstraction. Arguably, the more layers of abstraction, the more sophisticated the language. That is not to claim, however, that the sophistication of a given population [or culture] is or is not reflected in the language it employs. Such conclusions, historically speaking, are often wrong and seem always the result of sloppy investigations, knee jerk reliance on dogma, or both.)

    - Keith Pyne

    P.S. Though I write this on a tablet, and in haste, the errors are my responsibility and reflect my impatience, not necessarily the shortcoming of the tools I am using. If this seems like a back-handed excuse to you, well, you've seen through me quite effectively.

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