Hello
I see we have some Old English cognoscenti in this forum so I wondered if someone could confirm or otherwise, the assertion that the possesive use of the apostrophe (the man's hat) is actually just another example of the apostrophe being used to denote a missing letter.
My understanding is that in Old English the genetive form of man (for example) would be manes so that man's (as in the man's hat) is shorthand for manes.
On the topic of the apostrophe, when did it first appear and what would motivate its introduction? It seems that it is most often used to avoid writing a single letter and so is hardly worth the bother. And what is its relationship with the spoken equivalent? Is it perhaps the case that lazy (or rapid) speech gave rise to contractions which were then taken up in the written word?
Fred
1 2
I see we have some Old English cognoscenti in this forum so I wondered if someone could confirm or otherwise, ... the case that lazy (or rapid) speech gave rise to contractions which were then taken up in the written word?

The simple answer is that seventeenth-century grammarians got it into their heads that the possessive '-s' (no longer '-es' by this time) was actually a contraction of 'his' (the man his hat - a form of locution that became popular at the beginning of the seventeenth century). They therefore took to indicating this supposed 'contraction' by using the apostrophe. This would have appeared in print in the mid- to late-seventeenth century.
John Briggs
Hello I see we have some Old English cognoscenti in this forum so I wondered if someone could confirm or ... the case that lazy (or rapid) speech gave rise to contractions which were then taken up in the written word?

The possessive apostrophe doesn't denote anything except the conceit of the inventor. The genitive form was just "s". (Some may have been rendered -es but so were some plurals.) Place name illustrate this quite nicely. I dimly recall that it it came in in the early modern period when English was asserting itself as a literary language the classically educated classes were trying to make it more logically satisfying. They wanted to distinguish the possesssive from the plural - and trip up hoi poloi. The irony is that Latin nominative plurals and genitive singulars are often identical(!) and that we can't distinguish the two in spoken English. This gives us no problems at all whereas apostrophes have been an endless source of catastrophes, especially for greengrocer's.
There has long been a myth that the 's is short for "his" but it is just a myth.

Phil C.
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"John Briggs" (Email Removed) wrote up in the written word?
The simple answer is that seventeenth-century grammarians got it intotheir heads that the possessive '-s' (no longer 'es' by this ... indicating this supposed 'contraction' by using the apostrophe. This would have appeared in print in the mid to late-seventeenth century.

Thanks for that.
I wonder then why we don't have a feminine form - as in the woman her hat -> the woman'r hat?
Fred
The simple answer is that seventeenth-century grammarians got it intotheir heads that the possessive '-s' (no longer 'es' by this ... indicating this supposed 'contraction' by using the apostrophe. This would have appeared in print in the mid to late-seventeenth century.

On the same subject.
Why don't we have an apostrophe in the possesive form of it - its?

Fred
You might like to ask that question in the newsgroup alt.possessive.its.has.no.apostrophe.
There is a possibility of an informative reply, but the certainty of humorous thread-drift.

Peter Duncanson
UK
(posting from u.c.l.e)
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At 11:17:28 on Sun, 19 Dec 2004, Fred (Email Removed) wrote in :
On the same subject. Why don't we have an apostrophe in the possesive form of it - its?

Because the whole of Usenet would come to a grinding halt, having absolutely nothing left to talk about.

Molly Mockford
I think I've been too long on my own, but the little green goblin that lives under the sink says I'm OK - and he's never wrong, so I must be! (My Reply-To address *is* valid, though may not remain so for ever.)
The simple answer is that seventeenth-century grammarians got it into their heads that the possessive '-s' (no longer '-es' by ... 'his' (the man his hat - a form of locution that became popular at the beginning of the seventeenth century).

I struggle to believe that any grammarian ever really believed that. There was no shortage of Old English documents to check and no problem comparing with other languages which use a possessive "s".

That was an era when the elite classes were feeling the push of those from below. Arcane rules of "correct" language have always been used to separate "us" from "them" - this was given a big boost by the status of classical education. It was, though, an era when fact and fantasy still had a very blurred dividing line - so perhaps some grammarian wanted it to be true badly enough that it became "true".

Trivia corner. The soft Scandinavian possessive "s" survives in many place names of Viking origin - Haceby, Goulceby etc.
Phil C.
On the same subject. Why don't we have an apostrophe in the possesive form of it - its?

None of the personal pronoun possessives needs an apostrophe. Mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs.

Ray
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