The Four Horsemen of the Apostrophe

This short rant on the use of the apostrophe was from Volume 1 of Distinct Impressions (ca. 1998). Despite my lonely campaign to correct usage everywhere, the reign of terror of these four horsemen continues.

Okay, I admit it.  I really like words.  Not necessarily big, long, fancy words.  I also like the short, to-the-point words.

I also like inventions of writers and linguists through the ages that allow us to use fewer words.  (Except, of course, when I’m charging extreme remuneration for the preparation of legal documents on legal paper.  Then it pays to stretch things out.  After all, you wouldn’t want the transaction to be null and void and without force and effect, would you?)

One of the greatest inventions was the apostrophe.  This little mark has two intended uses.  The first is to designate possession.  What could be simpler?  Rather than saying, “That book belongs to George,” we can say, “That is George’s book.”  We’ve saved a whole word and 6 letters.

The second application is in contractions.  I’ve already used contractions twice, oops, three times on this page.  Very handy.

Sadly, apostrophes are abused.  They are misplaced.  They are left out.  (You know this might be a great made-for-TV movie.)

I’d like to address four of the greatest travesties in apostrophedom.

The First Horseman

How do you create a possessive when a noun ends in “s”?  It might be proper to simply add an apostrophe-S, but it can sure look funny.  “That is Thomas’s book.”  Or “We’ve just entered Eagle Pass’s city limits.”  I prefer to simply add an apostrophe.  I may not be correct, but I don’t have those slovenly Ss all over the page.

The Second and Third Horsemen

Some people get real confused when dealing with words or words that sound similar when they denote possession or constitute a contraction.  My two pet peeves here are “your/you’re” and “its/it’s.”  These are constantly being confused.  I see mistakes in commercial advertising, in newspaper headlines and in countless personal letters.

Where have we gone wrong in our school systems that we can’t teach our kids the proper utilization of these simple words?  And, more importantly, why didn’t Bill Gates build his spell-checker where it knows the difference? (Not surprisingly, my iPhone does seem to know the difference.)  I believe it’s (notice the correct usage) a conspiracy to undermine our society to the point that we can’t communicate at all.

The Fourth Horseman

I have to admit that all I really wanted to complain about was this last one.  But then in the middle of church the other day (sorry, Preacher Mike) I came up with this snappy title and I had to dredge up three other apostrophe problems.  So, make sure you read the next few paragraphs.

In the South, our ancestors found it necessary to create a word-phrase that would be group inclusive.  The fusion of two three-letter words captured the feeling.

You all.

(Historic side-note: the folks up North were jealous and immediately came up with “you guys.”  This, in fact, was the beginning of the gender equity problem that still plagues us today.  If only one of those Yankees had had the foresight to offer “you persons.”)

An emerging problem with “you all” is the seeming disregard the phrase is given in the written form.  The two words were meant to be spoken with a drawl and pronounced as “yawl.”  True contractionists (not to be confused with the liberal decontractionists) easily translated the phrase to “y’all.”

But alas, this beloved term has been badly scarred.  Everywhere you turn, you now see “ya’ll.”

Frankly, I’m devastated.  It’s NOT “ya all.”

This could lead to a complete adulteration of other parts of the English language.  And if you think this is only a regional problem, think about this.  “Y’guys” is almost understandable, except when delivered in a Bronx accent.  But “Yg’uys” could be mistaken for Latvian village trash talk.

Where is our pride in our mother tongue, y’all?


Overjoyed to be Right Here, Right Now

I’ve spent a good number of hours with my husky-wolf, Togo. Never have I ever had him communicate anything to me other than “I am overjoyed to be right here, right now . . . with you!”

As we begin a morning walk and get to the end of the driveway, he knows a decision must be made. Do we head north or do we head south? Looking back, he checks for my hand signal and then, without a complaint or ever looking back, he gladly bolts down the street.

Or, after a game of tug-of-war or a little bit of rough-housing, Togo never whines when I tell him, “That’s it, buddy! Time for me to go in.” He just wags his tail and lets me know that he’ll be here if my schedule changes.

Or, when I begin the feeding routine by emptying and refilling his water bowl, he is never impatient but instead walks in close beside me and leans against my leg as the water pours.

Or, whenever I ask him to sit, whether it’s for his prayers or just for a little talk, Togo gives me the look that tells me “This is good. This time between you and me — it’s good!”

Or, even when storm clouds threaten and thunder booms and Togo peers around the corner of his house anxiously, his glances tell me, “There’s no place I’d rather be than here with you.”

2014-02-23 13.48.09Togo’s pure joy is why I break often when I’m at home, just to walk out in the back yard and spend some time with him. And, even though I can see the holes in the yard he’s dug, the shrubs he has destroyed, the patio furniture he has decimated, and the mud — oh, the mud — everywhere, my spirit can’t help but be lifted by his joy and his willingness to share it with me.


As I finished our walk this morning and as I watched Togo play with his squeaky raccoon toy in the back of the pickup, I wondered if my joy for life has ever touched another person. Perhaps if I were a little more willing to walk down any path just to be with someone or stand close by when necessary things are being done or sat just for the sake of sitting or expressed joy and gratitude in the midst of a personal tempest. Perhaps then.

Good Things Can Be Scary

Sometimes I forget that really good things can be scary to those who have even a slightly different perspective.

I had been wakened repeatedly through the night by mostly distant rumblings of thunder and meager flashes of lightning. In the middle of a drought, these sights and sounds have a way of  settling me and bringing that special feeling of hope. As I turned over, I was eased back into sleep by the reassuring sound of raindrops gently hitting the roof and the windows. Although the sensation was imperceptible, I could imagine hearing the much needed water soaking into parched ground. Without looking, I could see the runoff coursing down street gutters to the local creeks and, eventually, into the lakes that hold this precious resource for life.

Togo, our husky-wolf mix dog, has a contrasting viewpoint.

Last night, as the storms began to build thirty miles to our west, he became fidgety. By 5:00 p.m., his customary dinner time, he was tucked into his doggy igloo. Anxiously peering out, he refused to emerge. So, I went through the feeding ritual alone, retrieving his bone marrow retreat, scooping kibble into his dish, squeezing a capsule of fish oil into the mix.

Walking around to the front of his house, I tried to hand him the treat. Looking past me to the skies, he ignored it. I placed it just inside his door and then showed him his dog dish, supper prepared just like he likes it. Still no response. The dish went in its customary spot next to the igloo and protected from the elements by Togo’s over-sized travel crate. Togo stood inside, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

As I turned to go inside, I saw him look right at me and immediately sit down. Of course! I’d almost forgotten. This was the moment for prayer.

I knelt next to the igloo, reached in and put my hands on Togo’s shoulders. We went down the list of things that Togo is thankful for. Noting his anxious expression, I added a blessing of comfort and peace for his stormy night ahead.

As I shut the back door, his face was framed in his doorway. Even though there was no storm and no rain yet, he looked expectantly toward the heavens.

This morning at breakfast it was raining. When I stepped outside, he stayed in his house. Like last night, he remained in the igloo. There wasn’t much to do for breakfast — apparently he had never left his house and his dinner was untouched. I went to the cabinet, retrieved another treat, and left it between his paws. The expression on his face was priceless and I went inside for my camera.

I grabbed a couple of special treats as I went back outside. That seemed to energize him. As I was trying to get a picture of him hunkered down in his safe place, he emerged. Halfway. And he stood looking around his backyard, bewildered by all the water. Remembering the lightning and thunder. He shivered just a bit.

I don’t profess to know what goes in Togo’s head. But I supposed that no matter how hard I try to explain to him how welcome this rain is and how grateful we all need to be, he will continue to have a fear that can only be removed through experience. I am saddened just a bit knowing that he may not ever have enough good times with rain in West Texas to ever come to this place of celebrating this very good thing.

We’re all a little like Togo. New things happen — good things. Yet, they are so far out of our normal experience that they provoke anxiety and fear. At times like those, it’s nice to have someone come and sit beside us — and perhaps offer up a little prayer of thanks and comfort.

Praying with the Dog

I’m just a risk-taking sort of guy. At least, that’s my thought as I begin this post. I’m writing from Seat 11-A of Flight 232. Outside my window, what appears to be ants are making their way back and forth. Really, they are ants, because word from the cockpit is that we may be stuck on the runway for another hour as a storm system stalls just east of the airport.

The risk has nothing to do with flying. I’m about to write a post about my spiritual journey with my dog. Years ago in a post, I idly referred to my son’s dog as “my grand-dog.” Within hours I received an indignant reply about how shockingly ungodly I was to refer to a beast as a member of the family. I simply wrote back, apologized for the offense and offered my view that my words largely reflect how many people have a familial bond with a pet. “A pet is a pet,” he responded. “Your lack of clarity on that guarantees your eternal condemnation!”

I suppose he could be right. But I’m going to risk it.

After seeing a post on FaceBook from some friends who are dog lovers about their bulldog, Paisley, and her habit of praying with her owners before her meals, Nancy suggested that providing Togo with a little religion might be a turning point in his life.

And so it was that I found myself outside crouching in front of our 80 pound, Husky-Wolf mix — juxtaposed between him and the highlight of his morning, the two scoops of kibble in his well-used food dish. Those first few moments were filled with confusion for both of us. Togo was wondering why he was being delayed on his breakfast. And I was wondering why I was wasting my time in so frivolous a pursuit.

I struggled to hold him in place. I mumbled a few words of thanks for him, his food, his nice warm igloo. With a pronounced “Amen!” I  released him and he piled against me in his direct rush to his bowl. Nancy watched from the door, obviously enjoying the chaos that accompanied our new ritual.

Togo and I have been praying for several months now. In the event my angry reader is still out there, I do understand that Togo is not talking to God in these moments. But I am.

The prayer has become a part of our routine. Food goes in bowl. Togo runs to his designated spot and sits. I follow, set the bowl down, and crouch. Togo looks at me, not the bowl, now. He sits quietly. Occasionally, like a three year old in church, he sneaks a glance from side to side. He seems to listen as I word our prayer. It’s mostly still about him. Thanks for food, a good night’s rest, a safe walk later in the day. An expression of hope that he will be a good boy today.

I’ve noticed in recent weeks that a few more thoughts flow during these quiet, still minutes. I’m caught up in my personal thanks to God for allowing me to share just a few serene moments with one of his innocent creatures. The last of such occasions, this morning, I glanced up at the “Amen” and expected to see him stand and move forward. But instead, Togo sat and watched me for a few moments. Then, he leaned forward, delivered one of his liquid kisses and stood. Tail wagging just a bit, he waited for a final ear rub, and then he was off.

Oh, and about what I said earlier about Togo not talking to God during the prayer — let me clarify. Togo talks no differently to God during the prayer than he does at any other time. His whole life is his prayer. His cycles of need and satisfaction express it all. God’s simplest creatures, as all of nature, praise God with all their being, all the time.

And so I pray with Togo. Joining him in those short minutes before meals, I find peace. Togo is happy to be doing what God called him to do. And I add a personal petition that God will grant me that same happiness.

Our plane is rolling forward now. God, grant me a spirit of happiness.

Living Large on Campus

When I was in college, I never once slept in a dorm room.

For the first couple of years, I chose to stay at home. After all, the house was just a block from campus, I didn’t have to have a roommate, and, most importantly, I didn’t have to eat in the cafeteria. And then there are those other considerations like no one sneaking into your room at night to kidnap you and drop you off in the countryside in your underwear.

Now, 42 years later, I’m wondering if I missed something. And no, I’m not thinking the countryside in my underwear experience is that something.

I’m at a “scholars” conference. The standards must be low because they seemed happy for me to register. I’m on a beautiful campus in Nashville, Tennessee. And I’m writing from my very own dorm room. Granted, this is one of the newer units and I have a private room and bath. But, it’s a dorm room.

It was designed to hold two students. So I have two beds (in case I want to have a sleepover, I guess), two desks (which allows me to spread all of my junk over a larger area), two chairs . . . well, you understand, I have two of everything.

The beds are the most interesting feature of the room. In order to maximize floor space, the beds are elevated. (See picture.) Now, three and a half feet off the ground may not sound like much to you. But if you’re only 5’5″ like I am, “turning in” takes on more significance.

2013-06-06 06.03.59Once in the bed, everything is fine. I slept well last night, except between 11 p.m. and midnight when the folks staying upstairs apparently dragged a trunk with a body in it up the steps and then tumbled it around in the room right above mine. Those college pranksters!

The dismount from the bed this morning was exciting. It didn’t have to be, but I had forgotten about the elevation situation and athletically catapulted myself to a place where I thought the floor would be. I eventually landed at its actual location. Picking myself up and dusting myself off, I limped through my morning ritual and was soon ready for the day.

Since this is a conference with a majority of the meals included in the registration fee, I ventured off. I remember thinking, “This is just like college. Sleep on campus. Eat on campus. Go to class on campus. Everything on campus.” I was thrilled with the simplicity of it all and I was a little jealous of college students.

The breakfast was quite good. The only challenge was that the caterer had run out of regular coffee. I reluctantly drew a cup of decaf and muddled through what was otherwise a pleasant experience. When I completed my meal, I noticed that I had an abundance of time before my first session.

Another great convenience in modern times is the on-campus Starbucks. On my arrival there was no one in line and I ordered my grande Pike’s Roast and mentally prepared for the kick-in vitality I would soon feel. And the baristas were quiet friendly — with each other. The on-campus Starbucks is obviously a great place to be a student worker and they all seemed fascinated with each other’s lives. So much so that the young lady who was charged with filling my cup with coffee seemed totally incapacitated from pulling the lever. Each time she would raise my cup to the spigot and start to dispense the hot java, she would hear something from a co-worker that prompted her to respond. A full three minutes after I paid, I received my cup of black coffee . . . after I politely asked if she needed any assistance. I watched closely to make certain she didn’t put her finger — or anything else — in my cup.

And I began to think, maybe being on campus constantly isn’t the dream world I thought it was.

So this afternoon, I had a little extra time. “Since I’m right on campus, I’ll just run to the room and stretch out for a nap.” But once here, I hesitated. In full daylight the bed looks even higher and more formidable. And nothing in the provided dorm furniture even remotely resembles my recliner at home.

And I continue to think, perhaps being on campus even for a little while isn’t the dream world I thought it was.

DI LOGOI’m not through with Day 1 of the conference yet. I miss my bed, my recliner, my own coffee maker. And don’t even get me started on missing Nancy, my beloved bride of almost 39 years. At this point, I’m even missing Wonder Pup, that hellion of the back yard . . . that sweet, adorable behemoth of a puppy.

Two more days. Good class sessions to look forward to. Good meals. Good conversations with colleagues. Good times.

And a good understanding of why I never lived on campus.