Wits’ End

The title of this post illustrates one of the things I like most about writing. Predictably for a kid who was taught to write by the nuns, using that soft paper with three lines on it (two solid ones and a dotted one inbetween, remember?) and a soft-leaded very dark-black pencil, the fat kind that is better graspable by a small hand…

Well, that was a little blast from the past, wasn’t it? Did you learn to write that way, too? But as I was saying: That’s right, it has to do with punctuation.

Because the thing is, if I’d said wit’s end instead of wits’ end it would imply that I’ve run out, or perhaps even that everyone had. Which is another subject that I could go on about, but…

Anyway, it’s the apostrophe placed just that one little space farther to the right that gets me. It makes all the difference in meaning and in implication too, sometimes. I like it so much that even when I’m in the throes of the dreaded book-middle (which yes I am, thanks for asking), that apostrophe can delight me.

It’s a delight with its roots (not it’s!) in a strict rule, yet the pleasure it brings is the kind that’s outside rules, a child’s stubborn “I like it because I like it.” Possibly if I were a painter there’d be something about paint, or brushes, or canvas that would cheer me so much. Musicians no doubt have favorite musical whatever-they-ares, meaningful only to others similarly involved.

Meanwhile I’ve got apostrophes, and spelling, and grammar doo-dads (the subjunctive! and someday let me tell you about the etymology of the word ‘gee-gaw’) to love. The little twist you can give to a sentence, implying something about the mood or someone’s motives, by the choices you make writing it — I certainly don’t always succeed at this, but the knowledge that it’s at least possible by using language is intoxicating.

Language, after all. What an astonishing thing. We make shapes with our mouths and force air through our vocal cords to create sounds that have…meaning? Who thought that up? And we make marks that stand for the sounds (that right there being all its own wonderment) and they have meaning?

And then we write…stories? I mean to say, I am seriously impressed with us sometimes for coming up with all of it. That’s why even in the middle of writing a novel, when there are moments of being at wits’ end, for sure, I don’t have to worry about the end of wit. I may not have much of it on tap today, and it might run slow tomorrow, but I still have a hope of it coming on strong the day after and anyway, someone will have some. There won’t be a wit’s end…

As long as no one misplaces all the apostrophes.

(Note: I’m racing toward deadline so this is a blast from the past. Back to real blogging — with real pictures — next time!)

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5 Responses to Wits’ End

  1. Deanna says:

    Great article!!! Fun, too. Dee

  2. Coco Ihle says:

    Cute blog post, Sarah. Fascinating subject. Witty, too!

  3. I loved your “Let’s eat, Grandma!” my mother used to say, “What are we having for dinner, Mother?” with all the fun inflections in the wrong places. Thanks for making me chuckle, Sarah!

  4. Ah, the wide-lined paper and the fat pencils. Thanks for that memory this morning, Sarah, and the grammar talk, too. (It’s always fun to talk grammar with others who were schooled by nuns.)

  5. Enjoyed and shared. THANKS!

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