Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Lynne Truss in Singapore

The other evening, I went to a talk by Lynne Truss, who's in Singapore for two days to promote her book. It was a wonderful evening, full of wry British humour (the talk was arranged by the British Council in Singapore), phonetic punctuation (in a tribute to Victor Borge) and more hilarious punctuation errors. Here are two - drop the apostrophes to appreciate the humour:

Residents' refuse to go in the bins
Those old things over there are my husband's

Lynne Truss does come across as a lot less mavenish in person than in her book, I must say. Contrary to popular belief, she really doesn't go around correcting every punctuation mistake she meets, but is often quite shy about pointing such errors out. Well, that's what she claims, anyway. And she seemed quite resigned to the loss of proper punctuation.

I suppose I'm sympathetic because I feel her pain. As someone who's studied linguistics, I know that common usage dictates what's right and what's wrong in grammar, but still, punctuation and spelling mistakes like saying "Apple's 50 cents" drive me up the wall. After all, if it ISN'T an abbreviation for "is" and it ISN'T a possessive, then there's no apostrophe!!! I guess the discussion on Language Log recently, particularly by Arnold Zwicky, about "the thin line between error and mere variation" is of significance here.

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