The professor who taught me Middle English and Old English loved to remind us that grammar and orthography are modern inventions. She’d say this with sympathy and generosity as she handed back our bleeding papers. I loved that teacher. Such a wonderful hypocrite.
The philosopher Jeremy Bentham said, “All teaching is mischief”… wait, no, he said, “All punishment is mischief.” Never mind.
Unless you’ve worked in publishing, you might think that it’s petty to be hung up on grammar and spelling. However, if you have, you know it is.
You can’t just rip a word, phrase, clause, or sentence out of its living context and judge it right or wrong. Sure “Your the best” looks wrong, but is it really? I watched a game show clip recently where husband and wife had their compatibility tested. They’d been asked independently to write down and hide the answer to the question of how old the man’s mother was (or something like that) in decades. The man revealed his answer first: ten decades old. This surprised the host. “Really? That old?” “Wait,” he said, “isn’t a decade four years?” It was then the wife’s turn to answer. “She’s forty,” the wife said, and revealed what she’d written on her own card…
Ten decades old.
Funny, right? But do you know what “decimate” really means, or where it came from? Does your spouse? Will your answer win you that washer and dryer, or will you go home empty-handed? What will being “right” get you?
That said, “you’re” is a contraction of “you are.” “Your” is possessive. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is.” “Its” is possessive. “Man’s” is possessive, a contraction of “mannes,” which we don’t say anymore, and brings me back to my professor of Middle English. (You thought I’d dropped that, didn’t you?)
Actually, an apostrophe pretty much always marks a contraction. Did you see that coming? And if I’m wrong, I still win the washer and dryer.