Friday, October 31, 2008

an example of the need for simpler rules: the apostrophe

D: I have the seventh sense. I see dead punctuation everywhere. Nobody else can see it. And the punctuation doesn't know it's dead. <:

I never quite figured out why most folks find the apostrophe so difficult. I mastered it in primary school. Yet many of my liberal arts grad friends have yet to figure it out.

Punctuation is not set in stone. What is considered appropriate usage has varied by time and place. There is still disputes even among the most learned of us.
Having said that, consider the following passage:

  • My sister's friend's investments (the investments belonging to a friend of my sister)
  • My sister's friends' investments (the investments belonging to several friends of my sister)
  • My sisters' friend's investments (the investments belonging to a friend of several of my sisters)
  • My sisters' friends' investments (the investments belonging to several friends of several of my sisters)
I will review the most common errors.

1) "dog's" This could mean the possessive "the dog's bone" but no plural.
2) "it's" This can only mean a short form of "it is". Perhaps "'tis" was clearer.
I think I know why people screw that up. My, your, his, its. BUT Henry's, Mary's ...
They know sometimes there is an apostrophe. The English system is clear as mud.

Aside - the US rule suggests using an apostrophe for the plural of an acronym. For example, RRSP's. In Canada we don't ( I corrected the Royal Bank for the GIC's).
I much prefer our system. It allows more information. For example, how does one clearly indicate the possessive of GIC? It resembles plural with the US rule.

D: what to do?
Well ... if I ever get around to completing Hioxian, I plan to allow an optional overt indicator of what role a piece of punctuation is playing.
I read "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation ".
It was a fun read. Each punctuation symbol typically had only a handful of uses. This allows me to use Hioxian with a "subset usage indicator" mark on each symbol.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dion in interview with CTV encounters problems with disambiguation.

Sitting for a taped interview with Steve Murphy, the anchor for CTV Halifax, Mr. Dion was asked: "If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper hasn't done?"

Mr. Dion replied: "If I had been prime minister 2½ years ago?"

Mr. Murphy replied: "If you were the prime minister right now."


Mr. Murphy repeated the question again. Mr. Dion asked: "If I was prime minister starting when? Today?"

D: Sure, Dion could have handled his response better.
But the question was ambiguous.
Verb tense for hypothetical situations is tricky!

For present unreal events, we put the verb in the condition clause one step back — into the past:

  • If the Bulls won another championship, Roberto would drive into Chicago for the celebration.
  • I wish I had tickets.
  • If they were available anywhere, I would pay any price for them.
  • If he were a good friend, he would buy them for me....

For past unreal events — things that didn't happen, but we can imagine — we put the verb in the condition clause a further step back — into the past perfect:

  • If the Pacers had won, Aunt Glad would have been rich.
  • If she had bet that much money on the Bulls, she and Uncle Chester could have retired.
  • I wish I had lived in Los Angeles when the Lakers had Magic Johnson.
  • If I had known you were coming, I would have baked a cake.
D: very confusing to an ESLer! (English as Second Language)

D: I assume Dion understood the rule that generally verb tenses must agree.
Typically, if one begins in past tense then one stays in past tense.
Easy, right? [=