Including Punctuation?

Just got a notice from Amazon that because I purchased other books in the technology and society category, I might be interested in Mark Bauerlein’s new book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. Here’s the product description: “This shocking, lively exposure of the intellectual vacuity of todays under thirty set reveals the disturbing and, ultimately, incontrovertible truth: cyberculture is turning us into a nation of know-nothings.”

So, the old English teacher that lives inside me cringed. Is it possible that you could use big words like “vacuity” and “incontrovertible” and still miss the apostrophe in “todays”? I reminded her (the old English teacher) that not everyone was so uptight about grammar and punctuation and maybe, through the disuse of the apostrophe, we were just watching a natural evolution of the language, like standardized spelling in earlier centuries. She suggested that it was simply another example of the intellectual vacuity that this book describes. It goes right along with Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason, a book which explores a similar theme of the anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism rampant in our culture.

It’s too nice outside to ponder this much more but it’s a question that haunts me sometimes and leads to these psychophrenic conversations with my inner English teacher. Is that missing apostrophe simply a sign of a sloppy copy editor? Or, is it a more ominous trend towards utter disregard for the rules that have governed our language, a disregard that I think Bauerlein and Jacoby believe is widespread. That apostrophe is just the tip of the “smart is bad” iceberg, the kind of thing that leads to those “my kid can beat up your honor student” bumper stickers.

One thought on “Including Punctuation?

  1. Hey, I’d put a dash between “under” and “thirty”–today’s under-thirty set–and leave out the two commas surrounding “ultimately.”

    And I’m with the old English teacher on this one–this is not an evolution of language, it’s sloppiness. When my kids were in middle school, we used to play a game called “Apostrophe!” wherein we looked for misplaced and unnecessary apostrophes. I, naturally, was the champion and they were reluctant participants. Nobody “gets” apostrophes these days. My husband teaches research and writing at an unnamed law school and his first few weeks of instruction are centered on commas, apostrophes, quote marks and the like.

    I don’t blame English teachers for this, by the way. I blame the non-reading, anti-intellectual public. Most of us absorb the niceties of punctuation by reading and observing them endlessly, combined with a dose of Warriner’s Grammar lessons in school. Teachers could teach lessons on apostrophes every other day, and folks still wouldn’t get it until they began actually reading and writing for non-school purposes.

    I really enjoy your blog, Karen.

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