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Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

“S” is for possessive

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

The letter “s” is used with an apostrophe to indicate possession — as in “my aunt’s pen.” The usage goes back over 1500 years, around 450 AD, to Old English, language of the Anglo-Saxons. The language had deep roots in Latin, Ancient Greek and Sanskrit which produced a complex system of noun declensions and verb conjugations, most of which have gone now, leaving mere remnants (like this curiosity of possessiveness).

How did the genitive case work? Important nouns were given the ending “es” to indicate the genitive — the possessive case — like “the cloud’s velocity.” As time went by more and more nouns were treated like this, so by the Middle English period (1000–1400) this method of indicating the possessive applied to all nouns. But by then the letter “e” in the “es” was no longer pronounced and was redundant.

So about the middle of the 1500’s English printers began to omit a silent “e” and replace it with an apostrophe, which was hitherto a French practice. Hence “my auntes pen” became “my aunt’s pen” and remains like that today.

The practice is way behind us, so “the cates pyjamas” has become “the cat’s pyjamas”. We no longer recognise our ancestores ways!

Those thirsty for more can visit Wikipedia on Old English.

Writing is reason

Monday, February 20th, 2012

We all hope and expect to be ruled by reason.

Years before we become adults, our childish instincts are firmly aligned with fair play. The child’s strident cry of “that’s not fair!” is invariably well-founded, but where does it come from?

The first source is the natural, innate sense of fairness. Later we gain access to a more detached, educated, adult understanding of justice.

Between the childish sense of fairness and the adult construction of justice lie years of exposure to varying levels of reason. Language links them together. Continue Reading…