"Prosector to Oscar Pistorius: 'You're Version's a Lie'"!(By the way, I think Language Log has a punctuation mistake there.)
Now, I think "Prosector" for "Prosecutor" is actually the worse mistake, because it got me thinking about what it would mean to be in favor of (i.e., pro) "sector." I thought of words like "bisect" and "dissect," which are based on a root that means to cut, and that sent me spinning into a contemplation of Pistorius's birth defect (fibular hemimelia) and the double amputation performed by the surgeons who could be said to be pro-sector.
But Language Log thinks the worse mistake is "You're" for "Your," even though that mistake — along with "it's" for "its" — is just about the most common typo there is. Language Log makes an amazing assertion:
No one would make this mistake again if only they could remember (and understand) just one thing: There are no apostrophes in the spellings of any of the genitive forms of the definite personal pronouns. Look at them: my your his her its our their. Apostrophe-free, all of them.This displays an incredible ignorance of the experience of typing. I have fully and unshakably understood the rule about apostrophes for many decades. I have no trouble remembering it if I consciously think about it. If you gave me a test on the subject, I would get 100% of the questions right. The problem is the automatism of typing. It's uncanny how homophones pop into typing. I'm continually typing "to" for "too" and "their" for "there," and "you're" for "your" is another homophone. There is nothing about knowing what's right that saves you from making these mistakes.
I'm interested in the much larger proposition that understanding a rule can save you from breaking it. I'm sure Oscar Pistorius understood the rule: Do not murder.
IN THE COMMENTS: Brian points out that "prosector" is a word:
"Prosector" is, of course, an actual word, and does indeed mean "person who cuts up human bodies."Brian falls prey to the overuse of the phrase "of course." As if we all know the word "prosector"! You can tell from the text of my post that I didn't know it. The OED defines the word this way:
A person who dissects cadavers, esp. in preparation for anatomical teaching; an assistant to an anatomist, pathologist, or zoologist who is responsible for performing dissections.ALSO: The OED's historical examples of the possessive pronoun "its" include some with apostrophes:
1603 J. Florio in tr. Montaigne Ess. Ep. Ded. sig. A3v, My weaknesse you might bidde doe it's best.And Shakespeare had it both ways:
1655 T. Fuller Church-hist. Brit. i. 26 The Load-stone..forgetteth it's Property to draw Iron any longer.
1728 T. Sheridan tr. Persius Satyrs Prol. 5 Who taught the Parrot it's usual Complement?
1599 Shakespeare Romeo & Juliet ii. v. 12 The sweetest honey Is loathsome in its owne deliciousnesse.
a1616 Shakespeare Henry VI, Pt. 2 (1623) iii. ii. 396 The Cradle-babe, Dying with mothers dugge betweene it's lips.