NVDT – Writerly Concerns – Use it? Or lose it?

“Oh, great,” everyone groans. “Grammar.”

But no. I did some exhaustive (a couple of hours) research on the apostrophe. Along the way I learned several things. There is a shit-ton of bad advice out there. From requiring attribution to every line of dialogue to leagues of academic know-it-alls with opinions that amount more to linguistic discrimination than real grammatical advice.

I’m not questioning all uses of the apostrophe. Regardless of whether we can see or hear it in spoken context where our mind will make assumptions plurality or possession, it is useful in the written word for clarity. I’m not going to get into James’s, James’ etc (much, anyway) because The BBC and Cambridge style guides disagree, as do what is preferable for the London and New York Times. Would that be plural? Possessive? Spoken I get it, but should I write a new sentence? The London Times and the New York Times?Are the Times of either place both plural and possessive? The Times of New York. Or New York Time’s? Time as belonging to New York. Or London.

I will tell you, regardless of the rules, The Big Guys make their own. Britain and the United States Governments have dropped –’s as possessive for locations from Kings Cross to Farmersville, Negros Liberty Settlement and Guys Store Crossing. Major corporations have dropped the possessive -s by the dozens. Knotts Berry Farm, Starbucks, Harrods, Walgreens, Nordstroms, Aldis… The list is extreme. The main reason for dropping the ’s is that it makes it friendlier and easier, particularly for internet searches. But we add the possessive to places that don’t have an s at all. The mammoth grocery store chain is Kroger, not Kroger’s. But we say, “I stopped at Kroger’s for bananas.” Linguistic habits.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I took all my recent good ol’ country gals an guys work, copied it, and did a global remove of n’ because no one can say exactly, or even by a majority, if phonetic dialect is excused from the apostrophe. Some snobs say it’s (there’s an apostrophe rule exception) mandatory, and then slight authors who fill the page with them. Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning authors. Going back to the 1920s-30s-40s (there are two rules for numbers as well) authors added the -’ to any dropped letter, as that was one version of the rule. “I been goin’ on an’ on an’ on ‘bout my kin from Miss’sippi an’ you ain’t made nary a peep.” Because the original made up rule was the apostrophe’s job was to denote a dropped or ignored letter, originally a vowel in the first uses of colloquial dialect, the contraction. And one sentence back, ain’t? It weren’t even a word ‘till (either or on till) 1778. And as it’s a substitution for aren’t I guess they threw the apostrophe in just because. Aint. Is Ain a word? Only in the sense that I’ve heard the -t dropped. “Ah ain gwan down tuh Rufus’s no more.” Like the missing -d in and, do we write ain’?

There are those who say skip the dialect. Use occasional improper grammar to set the tone and tell the reader that the character is an old redneck but write their dialogue like an English teacher will grade it. Tell that to Twain and Fitzgerald and Faulkner and Welty. Or Irvine Welsh and Jane Austen.

Then there’s Authenticity. Tom Clancy and many others who try to write dialects that are not their own (either side of the pond trying to write like the other) take a big critical hit, with words like pathetic, obnoxious, laughable. And I agree. But they sell a bazillion books. In my case, in a book that will never see the light of day, I have an American in Cambridge with two Scottish roommates. I took the hint-and-drop-it advice with—

Dishtowel girl gave Deanna the once over, frowned at her low heel dress shoes. “No Wellies? You weren’t told it rains here?” It took Deanna a few seconds to process that from “Nwellies? Ya wernatole eh rines ‘ere?”

“Yes. No. No wellies. Those are rain boots? Rubbers, my dad says, and mom says galoshes. Do I need them? I sort of threw all this together in a big hurry.”

“Will you have a listen to her? Sounds a bit off, but she’s a fine eyeful of lass, I’d say.”

From then on? No Scots for me.

But from what I know, what I hear, what I live around?

Take a southernism. No, take two. “Don’t y’all tump that in the stock tank, y’hear.” Tump. Dump. Personally, I despise the y’know. Ya know? But there are places where colloquialisms will leave people scratchin’ their heads. The second southernism is a true story. A guy I worked with lived in Seattle, born and raised in the Northwest. He married a girl from Louisiana, never met any of her people and for a couple of years thought she’d maybe been married before, because her maiden name was Hebert (Aybear) but when she talked about people from home she’d say, “Bobby an Judy an ‘em went…” “Or Mom an ’em…” See, written out, you almost get it, but to hear it? “Bobby an Judy anem went…” No shit, my friend thought all the people she talked about were all related with the last name Anem. Like a giant family of Anems there in Baa-tone Roooozh. Took him two years and cornerin’ me at a sales meetin’ in Miss’sippi an’ askin’ me ‘bout it after he’d heard a few ‘Sippians say the same thing. He never told his wife, but he said it made their conversations livelier and more enjoyable once he understood what the hell she was sayin’ an she dint have no psycho ex likely to come huntin’ ‘er.

So, here’s the question. Drop dialect? Drop the apostrophe when it doesn’t matter? I’m all for doin’ like the big corporations and newspapers an droppin the fuckin thing all together sept where it counts for clarity and contractions. Sept ain’t. Cause ain’t aint really a contraction, it’s its (!) own word. An offin it where it aint needed does go considerable to cleanin up the page.

An seriously, it aint like it’ll cost me any sales or nothin.


Published by

Phil Huston


34 thoughts on “NVDT – Writerly Concerns – Use it? Or lose it?”

  1. I don’t understand people who see a sign on the side of a building that says “Nordstrom” clear as day and then walk around for life saying “Nordstroms”. I keep waiting for them to mention Walmart, but they never do…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I tend to rewrite sentences when I cannot make the correct usage look pleasing. I do blindly use the Oxford Comma but only because some third grade nun told me to and you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I do not use contractions in my posts unless they are in a quotation but do use them when I comment. I am not sure why. And rubbers were always what we wore over our shoes to keep them dry when we weren’t wearing galoshes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Further – The lack of contractions is an attorney-ism, and a subset of Academia. My daughter is an energy attorney, as in buying and selling petroleum leases for $ with more zeroes behind them than I can count and contract, in fact ALL legal language has to be dead specific. She goes through and looks for wording that is screwing her side. My wife has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric. All that is great for specific applications but no one speaks that way. The first thing to turn me off is unrealistic dialogue. Take a divorce. “We cannot go on this way, my Darling.” “The terms you put forth are quite satisfactory. However, as regards the house, you may take possession of the day after I am buried.” “But I cannot wait, Darling. Geoff and I will not have our happiness delayed by waiting upon the day of your eventual demise.” “I apologize profusely, but I cannot allow your future happiness to rid me of a domicile to which I have grown quite accustomed.” “If that is the way you want it, I have no other choice than to expediate your time of death.” BANG.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Maybe if a store’s name is not really recognizable as an actual name, it works better without the apostrophe? (Like who is Walgreen at this point?) I think James ought to be “James’s” because he’s presumably one James and not two or more of someone named Jame. I think the apostrophe should be used to aid dialect, I don’t think there can be a hard and fast rule.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I ran a compile of the catfish murder with the ‘ for g removed. Others for contractions and possession are there. I’m going to run it past some people, see if it bothers them. Want a Word or PDF for opinion?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m used to your deep colloquialisms, they’re like puzzles. “I know they’re speaking English of some kind, now what do the sound like…”

    There’s the problem of consistency as well. Once a character speaks a word in vernacular, you have to remember to have them always say it that way — unless they’re intentionally not saying it that way.

    Interesting about the dropped ‘s’ or the dropped “‘” in front of an s. For some of those, I think the name actually went from possessive to plural for me. Oh, it was only ONE king, not lots of kings and their cross.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Forget about all the self-styled “Experts” and the egg-heads out there and just write. If people are interested in what you say, they will read it if they struggle with grammar. When I write I am not the least bit interested in impressing some stuff-shirt academics out there. Besides which there are “Programs” such as “Grammarly” and some AI writers that will take care of correcting all the grammatical errors –if that is your thing — I use them all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I use Pro Writing Aid, but my issue with all of those is what they do isn’t content based. I do use them as a devils advocate forcing me to go over every line looking for my clams and checking theirs. I had to give up on Grammarly simply because the first three words of every sentence are not always an introductory clause. In the case of this post AI is no help other than to point out dialect as a spelling and or grammar issue. To the point that I add all the dropped G words to the dictionary. There are two distinct schools of thought on this apostrophe thing, like everything these days. One holds that the apostrophe is so misused and misunderstood as to be useless, the other that it’s the end of civilization if it goes away. Which is weird because it’s use as a form of contraction was lifted from the French who used it as a grammatical affectation.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. “Wellies” is a lot better choice of word than “Rubbers” to describe footwear because “Rubbers” can be too easily recognized by some people as “Prophylactics” used to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases –As to describing the all-weather protective footwear, I prefer the somewhat archaic word, “Galoshes.”

      Liked by 1 person

        1. As I sadly lack an English degree, if I’m using apostrophes either side of a word, do I also have to use a capital letter? I was of the opinion it’s either one or t’other. You’ve used ‘Wellies’ in the 8th paragraph and ‘wellies’ in the 9th paragraph, and now I’m confused!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. That’s me in draft mode not knowing if Wellies might be a proper noun. I also do that all the time with relatives. Mom, dad, mother etc and have decided if it isn’t being directed at someone in substitution for their name, the heck with it.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. I was under the impression from an Englishman that rubbers were erasers. In fact his favorite story was when he was a new expat he was making a transaction at a bank, screwed up something and asked the teller for a rubber. She promptly called security.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. The dialect discussion also has two opposing sides. One claims it makes the work unreadable. The other is in favor. I don’t like to read a lot of stiff writing, particularly dialogue because it’s unrealistic. Narrative, I believe, should be clean. But few people speak articulately, or correctly, much less assemble their spoken language logically. Which we can fix in dialogue, but changing the tone is another thing. I can’t imagine a small town counter girl at a truck stop saying, past her wad of gum, Good afternoon, sir. Have you seen our current specials on Chinese Indian blankets and close out Citizen Band radios. Are the fountain drinks, cookies, jerky and Cheetos all you were looking for today?

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.