“Declining Standards Of Literacy” In 1835

A notice preserved in the Church of the Holy Trinity, Rothwell. 

 

Accompanying it is a contemporary  letter, addressed to the Editor of the Rothwell Chronicle.

Sir,

Pleas’d as I was to observe the notice in our Parish Church soliciting funds towards the restoration of our Church, I feel compell’d to write to exprefs my extreme vexation at seeing that most confounded of insects, the Apostrofly (!!!) making an unwanted appearance. 

“IT’S original state” indeed!  What do they teach them in our dame schools these days?!  Is it for that this we pay our tithes?!!

I must regretfully sign myself, Sir

Your most obedient servant

Disgusted of Rothwell

Actually, no.  As the OED explains –

Its

Etymology:  Formed in end of 16th cent. < it pron. + ‘s of the possessive or genitive case, and at first commonly written it’s , a spelling retained by some to the beginning of the 19th cent.

The word made its (or it’s) appearance  too late to be thought suitable for the KJV or Shakespeare’s First Folio, but in time for the First Quarto and – until the beginning of the nineteenth century – was quite happy to be spelled with an apostrophe.  The apostrophe’s disappearance may have been linked to a – surely spurious – analogy to words such as his, hers and yours, or may simply have been a matter of  fashion.

Perhaps this metropolitan vogue was still to make its way to Rothwell by 1835.  Or, perhaps, the author might have been old enough to remember when “it’s” was regarded as the correct usage (the late use of the cursive s suggests as much), and was deliberately adopting what he thought to be an appropriately formal style of writing, indifferent to the vagaries of fashion.

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