Saturday, February 7, 2015

That Niggling Little Symbol

What is it about the apostrophe? _'_ It isn't all that important. After all, it's only a symbol. Oh, but such a useful symbol.
Please don't confuse it with one of its cousins, the quote mark _"_ (twin apostrophes, if you like).
Also don't confuse it with its other distant cousin, the comma _,_. The apostrophe is above all that ground work. It has loftier functions.

Nope. The apostrophe is one of those tools that fills in when things are omitted in order to make the syntax less robotic. Let's look at a few examples.

You want to write (or speak) about a period of time, say the Hippie Era. Would you refer to it in a formal way and reference it as the 1970s? (Incidentally, ignore that silly Word squiggly red line. It's wrong!) I think not. Nope, you'd abbreviate the reference and speak of the '70s. Hmph. There's that apostrophe barging its way into this conversation. What's going on here? Oh-h-h. I see! The century-defining preface is omitted so the apostrophe is standing in to let us know that something's been omitted.

Come to think of it, even as this post is being composed, there are nine instances where the apostrophe has already been used in this this manner and in this post. Can you find them? Why are they in there?

They're serving as stand-ins in order to create contractions. You know about contractions. Those instances where you have two words but you've turned the second one into a blended form of the first word and omitted the vowel. So you have words such as
  • "it's" which is the contraction of "it is"
  • "don't" which is the shortened way of saying "do not"
  • "Let's" is another way of saying "Let us"
  • "There's" is actually "There is"
In each instance, the apostrophe has stepped in for the vowel that was omitted. The two words were blended to create the slurred contraction that allows a faster pronunciation of the intended message rather than the choppy sounding out of each and every word and each and every syllable.

So we've covered the beginning and the middle. What else could there be? Why, the end, of course. Yes, the apostrophe even has a function in that area as well. You know those times when you're speaking colloquially (informally) and the last letter of the word isn't pronounced? Yep. Good, old Apostrophe comes along to clue us in that the informal version of the word (and pronunciation) is being used. So we wind up with catchy little instances such as
  • Keep on Truckin'
  • beatin' the daylights out of
  • beggin' forgiveness
  • biscuits that are finger-lickin' good
We haven't addressed other colloquial expressions such as "whatcha gonna do," which represents a hybrid slur and blend for "what are you going to do." Instead, we'll leave that consideration until another time. This is for bite-sized thoughts and a little guidance.

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