Writing and diction

Style lesson — Contractions

(c) 2012  Earl L Haehl Permission is granted to redistribute this in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

We are creatures of habit. That is pronounced “we’re creatures of habit.” One of the problems with modern English writing is the contraction. And as I looked back through my posts over the past few years, I find that I have been a chronic offender.

It is easy to get that way and back when I was writing for newspapers in the late Pleistocene, contractions were encouraged to save space. And they have antecedents in history and literature. Sam’l Johnson, DHL, had a publisher who saved two letters by using an apostrophe as did Dan’l Webster. I was unable, however, to convince the English department of this.

Back about the end of May, I resolved to correct this lapse in my writing style because I am writing for a general audience and should not rail against those practices I follow. You note that I have not resolved to give up circumlocution or complex sentence structure because I wish my readers to be able to decipher and translate such style—it helps in understanding lawyers, politicians and flacks as well as pedants such as myself.

Part of the problem with contractions is the fact that the contraction of “it is” can be confused with the possessive form of “it.” Actually there are two contractions for “it is”; it’s and ’tis. They are fine in poetry and music. “’Tis” is also appropriate in dialog to enhance character. The possessive form of “it” is “its” with no apostrophe. Or to use them all in one sentence. ‘Tis a sad thing when a machine thinks it’s appropriate to disobey its operator.

Education, Writing and diction


(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

This weblog is not going to use the term liberal because it has no relation to its root meaning. Likewise the term conservative is currently used to denote a group engaged in certain values not necessarily shared by those who appreciate limited government. Likewise the names of political parties will only be used in discussions of an historical nature, not as an epithet. Below are the descriptors based on their opinion of the role of government from the most to the least intrusive.

  • STATIST: There is a belief in the absolute power of the state. It does not matter whether the purposes of the state are benign or repressive. Statists are merely the most totalitarian.

  • FEDERALIST: The federalists will err on the side of state power but they generally will accept some limitations in the way of compromise. Both of the modern political parties have these tendencies—the difference is in what areas.

  • ANARCHO-SYNDICALIST: These folks believe that you should have a government that does not interfere with their lifestyle but should guarantee their essential needs such as health care, retirement, shelter and food stamps. They also demand that government rein in corporate interests.

  • ANTI-FEDERALIST: We’re talking limited government. Their founding document is the Declaration of Independence followed by the first ten amendments to the Constitution. While recognizing the necessarily of a role for government in the areas of defense and foreign affairs, they believe in freedom to travel and to form local defenses. You find Goldwater Republicans in this batch.

  • ANARCHO-CAPITALIST: Believe in laissez faire capitalism driven by markets, no necessity for government, self-reliance and the right to engage in self-defense,

  • ANARCHIST: No regulation or government whatsoever. This generally evolves into one of the other two camps.

When the system implodes the result is not anarchy but chaos which leaves an opening for the power driven.  There is no “withering of the state.”