Has the “Apostrophe” Lost Its Mojo?

Hope all of you checking this out are well and enjoying/have enjoyed a nice day.

I’m wanting to bring forth a take on something of which you may not be aware:  the uses of “apostrophe” as a term in rhetoric (one of the devices of expression in speaking and writing language).

As a punctuation mark,   the word (we well know) refers to a special kind of punctuation mark:  the symbol below the ” on the keyboard of the word processor that you are using when you send your comments in to this “Blog.”  Don’t know what I’m talkin’ ’bout? It’ll come to you when y’all realize that I’ve just slipped in seven of them in this sentence and the one previous to it.

The word “apostrophe” is of Greek origin and means in that language something like “turn aside” or “turn away.” We’ve just now shown how it works to mark a contraction in our English language.

But, it also has a very different sense:  as a rhetorical device used (not so much anymore) by orators and poets in which the speaker directly addresses an entity not present:  most commonly,  a dead or absent person,  an abstraction or some creation imagined, or something in nature.

One illustration here for each kind of apostrophe:  (1)  a dead or absent person–The opening line of Wordsworth’s sonnet “London, 1802”>>> “Milton!  thou shouldst be living at this hour”  (2)  an abstraction or something created by the imagination–the second stanza of Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn”>>> “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;/Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,/Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone” (3) something in nature–John Keats’s great poem “To Autumn”>>> “Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?/Sometime whoever seeks abroad may find/Thee sitting careless on a granary floor”

While the rhetorical apostrophe (like the “pathetic fallacy”) is seldom used today,  except perhaps in a spoofing or lampoon kind of way,  it was very popular in English and American poetry,  especially when used by the “Romantic” and “Transcendental” lyricists of the nineteenth century:  Such as Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley,  William Wordsworth,  Samuel Taylor Coleridge,  John Keats,  Alfred, Lord Tennyson,  John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,  Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Cullen Bryant,  Walt  Whitman, and others.

The most powerful use of the device in the Christian Bible is likely found in two questions from I Corinthians 15: 55:  “O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory?”

If you know some good contemporary examples of the apostrophe as a rhetorical device,  I (and others) would doubtless be pleased to know of them.



10 Responses to “Has the “Apostrophe” Lost Its Mojo?”

  1. fayettenam hoe Says:

    you poe child, lest you try to learn the meaning of the words inside

  2. fayettenam hoe Says:

    the age is only a time line inside, your box gives you boundaries to see beyond, gentle is the wind that blows in our face, out side your mind, you may gasp for air

  3. CICvet Says:

    RJR —
    Serious question: How come the catchword used by several authors, “dunno” (“I don’t know”) has no apostrophe? Is it because the phrase it replaces makes the apostrophe (actually, I prefer Mr Durante’s pronounciation, “apostastroke”) understood? As a survivor of Catholic schools, which included parsing sentences, I don’t think Sister covered that.

  4. CICvet Says:

    BTW: G’morning, hoe.

  5. Macky Myers Says:

    “For Brutus, as you know was Caesar’s angel. Judge, O ye gods, how dearly Caesar loved him.”

    “Julius Caesar” -William Shakespeare

  6. CICvet Says:

    “kick her right in the coriolanus” — porter (with a nod of the head to shakespeare).

  7. Raymond Rundus Says:

    Dear CICVet–
    The incidentals: (1) liked that you gave another responder a heads up or a shout out, especially the clever use of ‘ as in your “g’morning” (2) the information about Jimmy Durante’s malapropism “apostastroke” was fresh off the scuppers stuff. I also like the way he, but more likely a scribe, came out the with the work “schnozzola” for the great entertainer’s very prominent nose.
    About “dunno” and why this variant on “don’t know” doesn’t have an apostrophe: I don’t think “catchword” is the right term for this descriptor.
    I would, were I a lexicographer, probably label it a “dialectal variation” or simple “Dial.”
    Apostrophes of this kind would seem more often to appear in spoken English, in which eliding is often found as syllables are dropped. But the actual representation of a person’s speech, as you’ve shown, would belie this. Compare, as another example, the use of “whatcha” or “whattaya” for “what’d you, the latter, in formal spoken English being (of course) itself a shortened form of “what did you. . . ?”

    Dear Macky Myers,

    Nice illustration from “Julius Caesar” of the rhetorical “apostrophe.”
    Orators for centuries have made from their pulpit or their dais or their podium appeals to one or more spiritual forces or “Persons” . . . . Understand that, in general, most high schools, excepting most private ones, forbid an appeal in public to a “Holy Father,” “God in Heaven,” or a “God Almighty.”

    Understand also that Sarah Palin is arousing the fervor of a great many people by her appeals to them to restore our country to its earlier roots, stems, branches, and trunk, via reminders that “E pluribus unum” and “In God We Trust” are not mutually exclusive terms. She is giving new meaning to Barack Obama’s campaign technique: offering voters the “Audacity of Hope.”


  8. CICvet Says:

    Wanna read hilarious use of “waddaya, waddaya”? Invest some time reading — Bonfire of the Vanities — a Thomas Wolfe gut-buster. Giggles galore.

  9. Jana Moton Says:

    Hey i just got a alert from my firewall when i opened your website do you happen to know why this occured? Could it be from your advertising or something? Thanks, really strange i pray it was harmless?

  10. Andrew A. Sailer Says:

    I was just having a conversation over this the other day I am glad I came across this it cleared some of the questions I had. I agree with the previous post about that I will be checking back to this blog.

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