Let him, who is without sin, cast the first stone
It's one of the most embarrassing things for me to be caught out with a mistake of my own when I am in the process of correcting someone else. Very occasional apostrophe errors have been seen (albeit for nanoseconds) on this site, which is exceedingly unfortunate given the vitriolic way I treat apostrophe abusers. I've also been known to provide the main part of this site with spelling errors (or should that be spolling errons?) and typographical manglings...
I am happy to continue walking the tightrope. It is worth making a stand against the decline of standards in punctuation, the apostrophe being my pet cause. However, I would advise anyone following in my footsteps to be wary of making a complete ARSE of themselves.
In the following instance, a member of the Laffaday mailing list, decided to correct the list's editor on an error in one of his opening comments. The editor had written that Tom Hanks had, in the film Castaway, calculated a circle's area using an estimate of PI to two decimal places, rather than using the full eight decimal places. It was clear, both from the editor's comment and from the aftermath, that this man has no idea that PI cannot be written exactly to any number of decimal places, being of infinite precision. Here is the letter which the editor received, and quoted:
TZ, It is good to see that the public school systems in your hometown did a bang up job. In your daily ramblings about Castaway, you mentioned that Tom Hanks calculated pi out "to the full eight decimal places". If that backwater school that you attended was worth it's wait in pig shit, you would know that pi does not have a final decimal place. The signifigance of pi is that it goes on to infinity and never repeats a pattern. Please let me know where you went to school so I can be sure that when I have children I can be sure to not send them to the Mayberryesque institution of lower education you attended.
Unfortunately, I doubt that the editor is aware of the errors in the letter that so caustically corrected him. Only one of these is an apostrophe error - good old it's (meaning it is) versus its (meaning belonging to it). Just to be 100% clear, it's can NEVER mean belonging to it. Despite having an apostrophe, it's is never a possessive - this is because the possessives of pronouns are always expressed using the language's possessive pronouns - forms of the pronoun which are the only valid way of indicating that the thing referred to owns something.
You don't know what a pronoun is? Well, time to look it up. However, dear reader, you probably do know a pronoun from an adverb and you probably also know the difference between worth the wait (meaning the value of that is at least enough to justify patience while it has not arrived yet) and worth its weight in ... (meaning that value of that is equivalent to an equal mass in some precious substance).
Added to the unfortunate catalogue of errors in this, otherwise rather witty, retort is the spelling error, the significance of which is worth its wait in apostrophe errors... well, I'll quote Lisa Simpson here (who was probably quoting some wise person):
It's better to keep quiet and be thought of a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.
Please let me know if you think that there are any errors in this article - I'll do my best not to blush TOO much.
24 April 2002