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July 13, 2008

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She would qualify for my stock note in such instances: "It's not "it's", it's "its"." (And the ice cream is great too.)

I can sympathize (empathize?) with Grammar Girl because I misspelled towel (spelled it towol) in our 3rd grade class' spelling contest and it's stuck with me ever since.

Ohhh, It's-Its! They are my utter and complete nutritional downfall.

The worst offender of all is Lynn Truss; see Louis Menand's scathing review of "Eats, Shoots and Leaves": http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/06/28/040628crbo_books1

You're right about owning up to it. We all make mistakes.

But Our National Proofreading Crisis is getting out of hand. A few months ago the New York Times had a headline on page one that put "by" where "buy" should have been.

Not so long after that, William Safire, in his weekly "On Language" column, referred repeatedly to "the noun 'perfect'" when he clearly meant the adjective. That wasn't so much a proofreading error as a proofthinking one. Or maybe a very, very outdated used of the word "noun". Or maybe just a flat-out dumb mistake. See for yourself: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/13/magazine/13wwln-safire-t.html?pagewanted=print

Oh, the horror!

I'm not surprised at all that "it's" is the first typo someone found in my book. As you noted, that word has been tormenting me since second grade. Of course, I know the difference now, but I still commonly type it the wrong way. My proofreaders know to watch out for it, yet one slipped through. (I'm praying there aren't more!)

Thank you for the kind treatment and for making me aware of Hartman's Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation.

@Grammar Girl: Thanks for dropping by! And believe me, I'm truly sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
@The Name Inspector: Oof, that Safire gaffe (Gaffire?) is really awful! And not just once, but three times. "Proofthinking," indeed.
@Karen: Yes, Truss is pretty bad. But worth enduring if only for that deliciously withering Menand review.
@Deja Pseu: For years I've managed to pretend that It's-Its don't exist, but since writing this post I've had this hankering...
@Genie: I've heard it said that spelling-bee contestants NEVER forget the word they got dinged on.
@Martin: Good idea, but I'm not convinced it would work. Some people might memorize it in exactly the reverse order.

I think it's weird how much we fetishize the apostrophe.

"It's" for the possessive "its" is the commonest English spelling error; I make it weekly. (Have to get busy, haven't made it this week yet.) I never forget the apostrophe when it's needed; I just often add it when I shouldn't. That's because we don't put apostrophes in possessive pronouns. Since "our" is plural and "his", "her", and "their" are unique words, "its" is the only possessive formed by adding an "s" to a singular noun or pronoun in the English language that DOESN'T take an apostrophe, so the problem is easy to understand.

Still, I feel Grammar Girl's pain. (Do I sound like I'm running for President of the Editors' Club?) In a book my shop typeset, Rewrite Right! from Ten Speed, the otherwise totally estimable Jan Venolia produced a list of overworked expressions on which she included "just desserts". The real expression (not as overworked these days as the wrong one, which I imagine we owe mostly to the eponymous dessert chain, although George Orwell most likely deserves credit for coining the pun) is "just deserts" (what is justly deserved), and everybody missed it. Sigh.

daveB

Oh, and my one missed word was "busyness", 5th grade.

I just ordered Grammar girl's book so I guess the second edition may include this discussion here in the intro of the new edition?

This proves that no one is perfect not even editors when you are trying your best to be grammatically correct.

My school made the worst error on it's slogan on printed merchandise. It read, "Spelman, Our Whole School for CHIST." It should have read, "Spelman, Our Whole School for Christ."

Oh well 8)

Thanks for enlightening me.

@Jennifer: Oh, how I wish I had a photo of that misprint...

P.S. Hartman's Law once again! You wanted the possessive of "it" -- "its" slogan, not "it's."

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