Readers respond to apostrophe catastrophes, Republican racism and the antiwar movement.

By Salon Staff
Published December 20, 2002 10:34PM (EST)

[Read "America's Apostrophe Catastrophe," by Arianna Huffington.]

Like so many other things, the growing misuse of the apostrophe for plural acronyms can be blamed on Microsoft. The spelling checker in Word cannot seem to accept a plural acronym without turning it into a possessive -- which in turn doubtless led to the New York Times' capitulation. It's just too hard to stop the darned computers from auto-"correcting" the proper punctuation.

As with so many other things, once the barn door's open, the horses will go galloping through. We can hang on to proper usage, but we must recognize that it's increasingly just a quaint archaism. It's not that this is the way we do it "here," but that it is the way we do it now.

-- Lauren Walker

I fully agree with Arianna in her ire at the misuse of apostrophes, but my own personal peeve is with the heinous misuse of adjectives for adverbs, the most egregious example of which is Apple Computer's campaign: "Think Different." When I drive past a bakery with a sign for "Fresh Baked Bread" or a cafe with "Fresh Brewed Coffee" I feel like heaving my Strunk and White through their window. Perhaps instead of an office of Homeland Security what this country needs is a cabinet-level Secretary of Grammar.

-- Dan McElwee

Take a look at any videotape box -- they typically read as if they had been written by a dyslexic third grader or like a Babelfish translation from Tagalog via Icelandic.

One can only conclude that our system of public education is suffering the same sort of breakdown as the rest of our neglected social infrastructure.

-- Patrick McKernan

Our church secretary is the worst offender. The weekly bulletin is loaded with misused apostrophes. We have not made an attempt to correct her for fear of a reaction similar to your daughter's, but a printed copy of your essay is going in her box at the church office.

It's a sad day for the English language when one rejoices to see a sign on a house that says "The Smiths" and not "The Smith's."

Next, could you please address the use of the word "hopefully"?

-- Paul Menser

One of the reasons medieval English is so hard to understand is that the language wasn't standardized then. People spelled words any way they felt like. Established spelling, grammar and punctuation were supposed to eliminate this confusion.

We seem to be regressing to this kind of miscommunication with our modern method of condoning spelling transgressions out of ignorance or just plain laziness. Relaxing the standards to conform to that ignorance or laziness, as the New York Times has done, is enshrining the problem, not combating it.

Just because "everyone does it this way" doesn't mean they're doing it right.

-- Karen Meyer

I share in your apostrophic huff, Ms. Huffington. It's not only in America; it's happening all over the world. In my opinion, the worst offenders are Australians. I've seen fruit stalls with signs reading Apple's, Peach's, Pear's, Plum's and, worst of all, Mangoe's -- yes, with an 'e' tacked on, which still didn't tweak the sign writer's punctuational conscience.

It seems there's a worldwide apostrophe apostasy movement in our midst.

-- Paul Fenn

Quick question for Arianna Huffington: What's the plural of "s"?

I doubt Ms. Huffington would write "ss" to refer to the plural of the 14th letter of the alphabet. So if she really wants to dot her i's and cross her t's, or simply mind her p's and q's when it comes to plurals, she won't forget to add those apostrophes.

-- George Roth

Dear Isabella:

You should listen to your mother.


-- Kathy Hoyt, copyeditor

[Read "The Ugly Truth About Republican Racial Politics," by Joan Walsh.]

There's one thing about Trent's remarks that occurred to me as soon as I heard them, but nobody else has mentioned it so maybe I'm off base. I'll throw that thought out here, just to get it off my chest.

That was the remark of a racist, but it was also the sort of thing you say when you think you can get away with anything. "My party's in power and we've got a lock on it. I can do and say whatever I damned well please."

I think that says as much about how the Republicans feel as it does about Lott's feelings on segregation.

-- Dan Cash

Walsh's fine article fails to recognize the problem. It's not just racism. It may not be racism at all. It's culture. Racism is just one aspect of that culture. Yep, I just criticized someone's culture.

What I shall call the "Southern culture" is first of all a culture that embodies a belief in hierarchy. It's a culture of hierarchy that has its roots in the pre-Civil War era and in England. In this hierarchy there's an orthodoxy. The orthodoxy allows you status only if you defer to your betters. People who don't think in ways that conform to the orthodoxy are disregarded if they aren't troublesome, and they're feared or excluded or punished if they are. Blacks are pretty close to the bottom of this hierarchy. Their job in this orthodoxy is to stay quiet, stay dumb, and stay out of the way. Again, racism isn't the primary aspect of this culture. The primary aspect is hierarchy.

Of course, honor is a big thing in the orthodoxy of these folks, too. They get all prickly if you don't honor their virtue and their virtuous stances and positions in the hierarchy.

That's what the term "family values" is about. Honor me. I'm virtuous. Pious too. I follow the orthodoxy and I want to get respected for it. It has nothing to do with any real metrics of successful families. Metrics like divorce rate or sane and healthy kids mean no more to them than they do to anyone else.

The hierarchy, the orthodoxy, the need for honor, and the recognition of their virtue also drove secession. Yep, the Civil War. The very idea that slavery might be challenged or ended drove this crowd nuts. They wanted states' rights so they could continue their society with its vertical rules and structure. No national government was going to be recognized as superior to theirs. If that happened the whole social structure would be endangered and would probably unravel.

The culture did see slavery as the forcing issue. But slavery and racism was subsumed under the culture, its hierarchy and its orthodoxy. How can we tell what trumps what? Ponder this question: If Lincoln and the Republicans had agreed to buy every slave at an exorbitant price, would the Southerners have taken the offer or rejected it? They would have rejected it. The culture and its benefits were more important than the money.

The progeny of this culture lives today. Look at Lott's comment again. It's not about racism. It's about self-pity, that of a culture that got busted in the Civil War and refuses to admit it was wrong or even that it got beat. Or that it deserved to be destroyed.

Picking away at the edges of this rotten culture by calling it racist is never going to be a winning strategy. It has to be hit closer to its foundation. And George W. did a commendable job of that in his speech when he spoke of the ideas of equality and the ideals of Lincoln. He did a hell of a lot better job of attacking the problem than all of the people using the word "racism" put together.

-- Steve Boyle

When you are from the South, as I am, you know exactly who Trent Lott is and what he believes. Like Dick Armey's "Barney Fag" comment, the words are the truth -- everything that comes after that is politics.

Most of us who were embarrassed about our racist heritage fled the South as soon as we were of legal age. The rest either tolerate the bigotry or actively participate in it.

You can't win an election in the South without winking and nodding at hillbillies, Klan sympathizers and country club "old money" Southerners. It's everywhere, and anyone who doesn't believe that is either a fool or a liar.

-- Susan Norfleet

I'm a sixth-generation Mississippian. Trent Lott is a distant cousin. He is also a horse's ass and a perennial embarrassment to the state. Richard Barrett is a lunatic-fringe dweller. Neither of them speaks for me, my family or my friends.

There's more to Mississippi than these two idiots, I assure you.

-- John Batson

[Read "Letters: 'Peace Kooks' Lash Back and Salon's Reporter Responds."]

At approximately the same time as Michelle Goldberg published her second attack on the antiwar movement, I submitted a personal reply to her first attack.

The joint reply from the organizers of the Not In Our Name statement, which you did publish, responded in a principled way to issues concerning the content of the statement. My reply dealt with the utterly false statement attributed to me by Goldberg in her first attack and the substitution of red-baiting for substantive criticism of the statement. I would appreciate it if you would also publish my reply.

I know that fact checking is a lost art in the new electronic media, but in fairness it seems you should at least allow people to respond after the lie. When Goldberg interviewed me by phone, she never asked me about this phony "quote" from some character in Seattle, which she found on the Internet. I think she did not ask me because she wanted to use it, and she knew that if she asked me then she would have to print my denial.

Needless to say, as much as I disagree with Goldberg, Gitlin, Christopher Hitchens, et al., I don't run stories with made-up quotes from them.

-- C. Clark Kissinger

Salon Staff

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