SMALL MATTERS

How much reading can you possibly have done if you consistently get the “it’s/its” distinction not merely wrong, but exactly backwards? The people who screw it up always use “its” where “it’s” is the right word, and “it’s” where “its” is the right word.

How is that even possible unless you’re deliberately clinging to the wrong notion? I’m not talking making your B in your boring old grammar class. I’m talking your observation and your deductive reasoning.

“Its” is the possessive form of the pronoun “it.” “It’s” is the contraction of “it is.” That’s it. That’s the rule. No exceptions.

I see the error not merely in online comments, but in articles by people who consider themselves professionals. To me it’s like not having your head in the game, it’s like not being able to hit a hanging curve.

Surely a professional ought to pay better attention?

The subject, supposedly, is what counts. The disastrously incorrect meme is that if the subject is important we shouldn’t nitpick. What does it matter if the writer can’t spell?

One way it matters is that“small” errors can have big implications to the reader, implications concerning the quality of your intelligence and attention.

Just tell me how it’s possible to “tow a line”?

Or “hoe a road”?

Well, I guess you could hoe a road, if it was a dirt road. But I have no idea why you would want to.

How is the reader supposed to be impressed if you can’t even be bothered to get the cliches right?

It’s not just written grammar. Even pronunciation makes a difference. Two examples, one from a movie, one from Shakespeare :

The Big Lebowski—how do you say it? Almost everybody says it with the stress on the second syllable of Lebowski: The Big LeBOWski.

But it isn’t your movie about winning your bowling award, an award called The Big LeBOWski. It’s about two Lebowskis, one of whom is your larger. In other words, it’s about The BIG Lebowski.

Every sentence is a tune. If you get the music wrong, even by so much as one note, you’re messing with the message.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet says to Horatio at one point, “There’s more to Heaven and Earth than is found in your philosophy, Horatio.”

The line is frequently quoted.

But when it’s quoted, most people put the stress on the word “your,” as if Hamlet were scolding Horatio for having the wrong “philosophy on life”: “There’s more to Heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in YOUR philosophy, Horatio.”

I think this is because nowadays everyone is assumed to have a “philosopy on life,” which usually turns out to be pretty much identical to their neighbor’s philosophy on life, especially if the neighbor is a successful pro football coach.

And most of what passes for the individual’s “philosophy on life” is not philosophy at all, but attitude. The difference is that genuine philosophy requires thought.

Considering that the Elizabethans (of whom Shakespeare was one, and humanly vain though they certainly were) did not pretend that just any Joe Blow could attain the lofty heights of philosophical reasoning, it seems to me the stress should be on the second syllable of the word “philosophy,” not on the “your”: “There’s more to Heaven and Earth than is dreamt in your phiLOSophy, Horatio.”

That was a common way of referring to an entire discipline. It didn’t mean the discipline belonged to you. It meant instead that whether or not you were individually capable, the discipline belonged to the species: You had your science, your mathematics, your courtly love, your politics, your blacksmithing, your finance, your schoolteaching, your archery. Your philosophy.

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