We ate, shot and left, or: kind of jealous more than possessive

En anglais, comment la grammaire entre inopinément dans des forums de discussion en temps réel.

  • 2004-08-12

#wordpress is an irc channel, ie a real-time discussion forum, for users of the WordPress blogging software. Its raison d’être is to provide help, advice and support, and it counts people from all over the world among its regulars, confused beginners and lead developers alike.

Conversation doesn’t stick to blogging or programming questions, though. What follows is an account of the events of the 10th of August, in what is the morning here in France. (Note to those not familiar with chatrooms: The participants are referred to by the nicknames they have chosen; nickname1: nickname2: [something] means that the person named nickname1 says something in reply to nickname2.)

[09:39] drdave-away: btw, I need help and suggestion for a new domain…
[09:39] NuclearMoose: pedantic.com? :)
[09:40] DireRed: lol
[09:40] drdave-away: I was wondering about putting a small WP hosting server, mostly for friends at first, maybe more later… for the domain name, I just can’t decide:
[09:40] drdave-away: we got MyPrettyNavel.com
[09:40] drdave-away: MyNavel.com is also available

Up to this point, nothing out of the ordinary. The discussion would most likely have degenerated into “funny domain names” banter. If only stevarino hadn’t typed the following fateful sentence …

[09:40] stevarino: haha. are you worried something will take it’s place?
[09:40] bunny-multiWP: drdave-away: how are you going to deal with the multiWP aspect of a small WP hosting server?
[09:40] DireRed: pedantic.com is taken.
[09:40] bunny-multiWP: stevarino: “its”

The deed is done. How is #wordpress going to deal with this thorny grammatical problem?

[09:41] drdave-away: bunny-multiWP: which is why I might wait a tad bit more (or end up hacking it myself)…
[09:41] bunny-multiWP: (its=possessive, it’s=it is)
[09:41] serendipity: bunny-multiWP: ah, that’s why you wanted “pedantic”
[09:41] bunny-multiWP: serendipity: I didn’t
[09:41] DireRed: $ whois punctuation-pedant.com
[09:41] DireRed: No match for “PUNCTUATION-PEDANT.COM”.
[09:41] stevarino: bunny-multiWP: lol i’m actually reading “eats shoots and leaves” right now, and i was thinking how peculiar “its” is today…
[09:41] bunny-multiWP: can’t say the explanations are really clear, but I’m fighting my way through it.
[09:42] bunny-multiWP: it’s like in French
[09:42] bunny-multiWP: people always make this mistake that bugs the hell out of me
[09:42] bunny-multiWP: va t’il pleuvoir?
[09:42] bunny-multiWP: instead of va-t-il pleuvoir?
[09:42] serendipity: sigh

At this point, the voice of reason from the great green Canadian forests came to our rescue:

[09:42] NuclearMoose: bunny-multiWP, its is not possessive
[09:43] bunny-multiWP: NuclearMoose: what is it called then?
[09:43] bunny-multiWP: “its cat”
[09:43] bunny-multiWP: “its page”?
[09:43] NuclearMoose: it’s more like, really kind of jealous more than possessive

NuclearMoose’s brilliant statement could have been the final word on the matter, but no — the concept of possessiveness as expressed by the apostrophe still needed exploring. And stevarino starts feeling a bit uncomfortable:

[09:43] bunny-multiWP: possessive pronoun? :)
[09:43] bunny-multiWP: silly moose
[09:43] serendipity: a friend of mine is fighting a losing fight against “frappe-moi pas” … i told her i find it not devoid of logic.
[09:43] stevarino: NuclearMoose: it is
[09:43] bunny-multiWP: pffff.
[09:43] bunny-multiWP: frappe-moi pas?
[09:43] serendipity: NuclearMoose: !!!
[09:43] bunny-multiWP: what’s wrong with it?
[09:43] stevarino: NuclearMoose: think “our” and “my”
[09:43] NuclearMoose: it’s is very misused
[09:43] bunny-multiWP: it’s oralised, but it sounds ok
[09:44] bunny-multiWP: “ne me frappe pas”
[09:44] stevarino: wishes he never started typing
[09:44] NuclearMoose: the possessiveness of the apostrophe is the least understood punctuation mark in existence today
[09:44] stevarino: make that ever
[09:44] NuclearMoose: people write “my car’s tires”
[09:44] NuclearMoose: but a car is a thing
[09:44] stevarino: the apostrophe has always been misunderstood
[09:44] DireRed: As someone says, the ‘ is mostly used to mean that an S is on its way.
[09:45] NuclearMoose: it cannot possess something
[09:45] bunny-multiWP: the tires of my car
[09:45] NuclearMoose: ergo it’s is wrong
[09:45] bunny-multiWP: haha.
[09:45] MooKitty: NuclearMoose: car’s tires is correct
[09:45] stevarino: a car possesses tires!!!
[09:45] NuclearMoose: it is not
[09:45] serendipity: bunny-multiWP: my friend points out that it’s not “quitte-moi pas” either… imagine jacques brel …
[09:45] bunny-multiWP: hehe.
[09:45] stevarino: so my car has no tires?
[09:45] NuclearMoose: does not it’s an inanimate object
[09:45] bunny-multiWP: I think your friend is being a bit… rigide?
[09:45] NuclearMoose: a car has tires
[09:45] bunny-multiWP: NuclearMoose: how do you say it, then?
[09:45] DireRed: things possess attributes.
[09:46] bunny-multiWP: anthropomorphisation
[09:46] NuclearMoose: the tires on my car
[09:46] MooKitty: whether it’s a ‘thing’ or person has no bearing on it’s possessiveness
[09:46] serendipity: MooKitty: stevarino: this is a “genitive of attribution”. like “my brother”. i don’t “possess” him either.
[09:46] NuclearMoose: yes it does
[09:46] MooKitty: it’s == he’s == she’s
[09:46] stevarino: “my” is possessive
[09:46] MooKitty: its == his == hers
[09:46] bunny-multiWP: its // his // her
[09:46] DireRed: NuclearMoose, I don’t even think Fowler’s English Usage is that rigid.
[09:47] MooKitty: AP style all the way
[09:47] NuclearMoose: well, in the four years I took of grade five, it was drummed into us daily…
[09:47] stevarino: MooKitty: lol
[09:47] drdave-away: House Style Holy War! yayyy!
[09:47] bunny-multiWP: reminds me of a guy in french at university, who was trying to explain to me that he tried to speak like he wrote, because oral language was full of “mistakes”
[09:47] bunny-multiWP: hahahaha.
[09:47] stevarino: wishes he NEVER started typing……
[09:48] NuclearMoose: the masses make the same mistake for so long that eventually it’s accepted to be “proper”
[09:48] serendipity: see what you’re doing to poor stevarino !
[09:48] bunny-multiWP: why do people interested in the web and coding always end up being language freaks too?
[09:48] NuclearMoose: it’s raining cat’s and dog’s…I’ve seen that written
[09:48] drdave-away: hits stevarino with a few volumes of the OED
[09:48] NuclearMoose: SEMANTICS
[09:48] stevarino: blocks drdave-away’s assault with eats shoots and leaves

Given the respective heftiness of these two works, you might think that this didn’t bode well for stevarino. WordPress users are friendly folks, though, and the discussion quickly turned to more appropriate topics; like php functions. And stevarino is still alive.

… and if you need advice on WordPress, point your favourite irc-enabled chat program to irc.freenode.net. #wordpress is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You might want to bring a dictionary, though.

(Note: I have deleted a small number of off-topic contributions to make the log more readable, and had to replace underscores with hyphens in the nicknames because they interfered with formatting. Out of the seven participants in this nine minute discussion, three are male and four female; one is an anglophone Canadian, two are British (one lives in the French-speaking part of Switzerland), three American (one lives in Japan), one German (and lives in France). A big Thank You to Steph, who provided the log after I lost it in an editor crash.)

1 comment(s) for 'We ate, shot and left, or: kind of jealous more than possessive'

  1. (Comment, 2004-08-15 14:23 )

    I go further than this. A misunderstanding about the famous apostrophe can make learning English very much harder than it need be. I find foreign language tests set by language schools riddled with the same error in the questions. It is more than semantics. The kids do not know what the thing means. Or should mean. Me? Pedantic every time. Stickler for useage.