This post is a response to CUP’s A Happy Announcement.
I’m marking at the moment, and, as usual, I am wondering what I did in a past life to bring this upon myself. Dante had it all wrong: the River Styx is awash with student essays — you have to plunge your oar into a wash of word salad in order to make it to the other side; you have to battle against that voice inside your head that says, ‘It’s not worth it, after all.’
In the course of this marking, though, I’ve come across something even more truly disturbing than a portrait of myself as an academic. I stumbled upon it in one of those moments of serendipity, I guess, where everything sort of comes together. Frustrated with constantly explaining the difference between ‘it’s’ and ‘its’, I googled ‘Learning Skills Centre use of apostrophes’, to see if UC had a page that I could simply point the students toward. The internet, after all, is all about enabling efficient laziness.
This is what I found. Scroll down a little and you’ll find youtube videos of keaandcattle’s own CUP explaining the fundamentals of grammar; more specifically, you’ll find him explaining the (non)-use of apostrophes with pronouns.
At that moment, I thought, I’d finally found the lazy marker’s dream ‘out’: no more buggering around with explaining the rules, no more explaining that ‘it’s’ is a contraction and ‘its’ is possessive, and that they’re quite distinct. These are rules, goddamnit, and you don’t just break them; otherwise we’ll be overwhelmed by linguistic anarchy, where apostrophes take up arms and run amok.
Looking a little closer, however, I found something deeply disturbing about these texts; something that at first I found difficult to put my finger on. What, precisely, is Creon accusing me of as I watch these videos? Is he undressing me with his eyebrows, rising and falling like a misplaced apostrophe? Is it me that has given pronouns a possessive apostrophe; have I been guilty of such a heinous crime?
Well, maybe some time in the deep past; perhaps when I was first dragging a pen from top to bottom after a fully — and beautifully — formed word
Take a look at the video from this point. It’s quite clear he knows something about we viewers. When the camera zooms out to reveal Christopher Lloyd from Back to the Future, the rhetorical questions begin. The man in the blazer wants to believe — and wants us to believe — that we should put the apostrophe between the ‘it’ and the ‘s’ to indicate possession. But no, it doesn’t; it doesn’t, ok.
But it’s not apostrophes that are at issue here, it’s something deeper. My first feeling was that Creon was onto something deep, dark and dirty about me — maybe that he knows I’m watching him in my underwear, that sometimes I turn tshirts inside out to wear them again or that I use teatowels as dishcloths and then don’t put them in the wash.
My heart shatters as he drops the bombshell: ‘Well, no, we don’t’. It’s the glance he gives just moments before he tells me that ‘these are pronouns’ that gives the game away.
What have I done?