The Silkworm: “Ack! My eyes!”

Having read and enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling, I bought The Silkworm on Thursday morning and finished reading it late last night. It’s an interesting book to read, as a writer, because it’s all about publishing industry politics. Owen Quine, the missing man whom Cormoran Strike is hired to track down, is a mostly unsuccessful novelist who has been way more trouble than he’s worth to everyone who has to work with him. The characters who come in to bend Strike’s ear about what may or may not have happened to Quine are either the missing man’s wife, Leonora, who hired Strike in the first place, or they’re involved in publishing, whether traditional or indie.

One of the characters under investigation is Quine’s mistress, a self-publishing writer named Kathryn Kent, and at first, I was a bit annoyed at Galbraith/Rowling for how she portrayed Kent. My attitude was basically: “That’s how you choose to portray a self-publisher? Really? Some of us write decent books and use appropriate grammar, you know!” But then I realized that The Silkworm was full of characters involved in publishing, and they’re all assholes. If I were a traditionally published author, I wouldn’t want to be represented as Owen Quine or Michael Fancourt. If I were a publisher, I wouldn’t want to be seen as Daniel Chard or Christian Fisher. I sure hope most literary agents aren’t nearly as unpleasant as Liz Tassel. The only character in the publishing world of The Silkworm who is both good at his job and a mostly decent person is the editor, Jerry Waldegrave, who is also a drunken train wreck. It’s like, nobody can be a part of the literary world for long without being either a shameless opportunist, a predator, an egotistical bigot, or a self-destructive mess. We go through all these unsympathetic characters, and then Strike and his assistant, Robin, take us for a sit-down with Kathryn Kent, and she seems like one of the least offensive of the lot.

Overall, I think what bugs me the most about the portrayal of Kathryn Kent is that the book shows us her blog posts word for word, with all their apostrophe abuse, random capitalization and cringe-inducing typos. Sure, there are plenty of people in the real world who do even worse than that and still manage to write books, but do we really need to see that from a writer who knows better? And a professional editor working for a major publishing house? When I buy a book to read, I expect it to be a refuge from sloppy typing, your/you’re confusion and apostrophes in plurals.

Apostrophe abuse that makes my eyes bleed.

There are apparently some people who think they’re supposed to insert an apostrophe before ANY USE OF THE LETTER “S” AT THE END OF A WORD. Including a PROPER NOUN.

(And by “proper noun,” I mean someone’s NAME.)

You assume the error in question was at least attempting a possessive, right? No! It wasn’t even a possessive!

There is just no excuse for this. How much longer until someone writes out my last name as “Mier’s”? Come to think of it, I think it’s already happened, but then at least it was someone trying to use the possessive.

If you’re overwhelmed by the rules of apostrophe usage, here’s a handy rule of thumb: when in doubt, don’t use an apostrophe. It’s not error-free, but it’s a step in the right direction. Better to neglect than to abuse.

If you like independent fiction and care about halfway-decent grammar, please check out my Challenge.

I reject as false the distinction between prescriptivist and descriptivist approaches to grammar.

How is that I never heard of The Oatmeal before? They come up with the most amazing example sentences!

First we have How to Use An Apostrophe. Their ultimate rule is, “When in doubt, DON’T use an apostrophe.” I appreciate this. Apostrophe abuse is so rampant nowadays, I’d rather see one missing than used inappropriately. We have this discussion here to show us that writers are not immune to the scourge of apostrophe abuse, either.

Then we have 10 Words You Need to Stop Misspelling, in which they remind us that “If you put an A in ‘definitely,’ then you’re definitely an A-hole.”

I’ll make a confession: I tend to abuse commas. My last revisions on Charlinder’s Walk involved a lot of hunting down and excising unnecessary punctuation. Also, I genuinely love adverbs. It is, admittedly, a sickness.

In which I am nonplussed.

To be quite honest, I don’t care how many spaces you put after a period nearly as much as I care about how you use apostrophes.

Why, you ask? Why do I care about the senseless abuse of apostrophes? I care because apostrophes actually mean something. Two spaces vs. one space after a period doesn’t affect the meaning of the sentence before or after that period. It just makes the page look different.

Meanwhile, there is such a thing as using an apostrophe where there should be none, omitting it where there should be one, and placing it at the wrong place in the word. Why couldn’t Slate feature an article about that?


Impromptu Grammar Lesson!

Snatched from Failbook:

see more Failbook

Someone not only does not understand the there/their/they’re distinction, in fact xe (I want to say the first speaker is female because xe’s complimenting someone’s boots, but really I have no idea) is willfully ignorant of how contractions work. First we have the first speaker, depicted with white outlined in black, whom I will call MW for Multiple Wrong. Then we have the second speaker, shown in white outlined in pink, whom I will call PW for Partial Wrong.

MW not only is determined that THEIR means THEY ARE and I suppose THEY’RE never occurs to this person, but xe also uses “y’all” inappropriately. The phrase “yall all” is nonsense. I am Southern enough to know that “y’all” (note the apostrophe) is a contraction of “you all,” and therefore the second “all” is meaningless.

PW correctly points out (though MW is too ignorant to understand the correction) that THEY’RE should take the place of THEIR, but xe also misuses ITS in the place of IT’S. We need a verb phrase here, not a possessive, which means that IT’S takes an apostrophe. That was something they both got wrong.

Grammar Lesson: Apostrophe Refresher on Its and It’s

In this world of epidemic apostrophe abuse, I’ve decided that you simply can’t have too many apostrophe refresher lessons. Today I will focus on the commonly confused words its and it’s.

To express ownership, possession or association by a thing, use its where you would use a possessive adjective.


The phone needs its battery recharged.

Since the word here is a pronoun, notice that there is no apostrophe. When you use a pronoun in its possessive form, there is no need for an apostrophe because possession is built into the word.

Other possessive adjectives (or pronouns in possessive form) include my, your, his, her, our, their.

It’s is a contraction short for it is or it has. In US English, we only use the contraction form of it has in the present perfect tense. (In some other Anglophone countries, forms of have can be used as contractions any time.)

Example for each verb:

It’s (it is) hot today and it’ll be hot again tomorrow.

It’s (it has) been such a long time since I saw you!

Those are the correct ways to use it’s with an apostrophe. For a possessive adjective, use its without the apostrophe. The two are not interchangeable. If there is an apostrophe in it’s, there should be a verb in the same place.

Grammar Lesson Prime: Stop the Senseless Abuse of Apostrophes

From the “it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want” school: oh YES I CAN lecture on grammar!

The apostrophe () is a punctuation mark used for two things and pretty much nothing else. Its uses are:

1. Contractions: when you use two words together and use the apostrophe to show where letters are removed.

Examples: won’t (will not), don’t (do not), aren’t (are not), it’s (it is), she’s (she is), we’re (we are), you’re (you are), I’ll (I will).

2. Possessives: used to show ownership, belonging, relationship, but NOT with pronouns.

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