The McMystery of the turned comma

In looking at old newspaper articles on Trove, I have often come across surnames that started with a capital M followed by what I thought was an apostrophe. For example, M’Michael, M’Ewan, and M’Dicken.

It was only through an email conversation with Robert Watson today, and looking a bit closer that I realised that it’s not an apostrophe, but an inverted comma. I wondered whether this was a typographical convention to use the inverted comma instead of a superscript C, and whether those names were actually McMichael, McEwan, and McDicken?

A bit of searching proved my guess correct. Michael G. Collins, in his academic paper “M’Culloch and the Turned Comma” writes

But two or three centuries ago, not all printers setting type by hand would have had a lower-case superscript “c” in their repertoire. John Smith’s eighteenth century Printer’s Grammar indicates that most printers’ “founts” would not have included a “superior c”, and suggests that the “inverted comma” was a substitute for it. To make do, therefore, printers apparently took the piece of type for the comma, and turned it upside down when representing either “Mac” or “Mc ”. Thus the comma [,] when flipped, became [‘] – a poor man’s superscript “c”.

A message for all time

I had a very confusing message notification on my phone this morning, where for a single event the notification contained all three words “yesterday”, “today”, and “tomorrow”.

It took me a while to realise that it was an notification from yesterday about the tomorrow of yesterday, which is today.

Having worked all that out, I did indeed make it to the game today to see the Knights beat the Titans 34 – 26, including a great contribution from Nathan Ross, who scored the match winning try in the 78th minute.  Well done Knights.

Nathan Ross, after the Knights 34-26 win over the Titans.

The importance of enunciation

Sain yure werds krekly iz emportent.

Yesterday evening  in chatting with a friend he asked what I’d done during the day. As I had made quite a few trips in the car ferrying children to and from various places I replied that I’d spent all day being “Dad’s taxi”.  Unfortunately I didn’t quite say it clearly enough, and he heard me say that I’d spent all day being “dead sexy.”

Apparently

Apparently the incidence of people using the word ‘apparently’ has seen a dramatic rise in recent years and they reckon that with the current average increase of 30% per annum, that by the year 2038 every sentence uttered by every human being on the planet will either begin or end with the word ‘apparently’.

I don’t know if it’s happening more, or I’m just noticing it more, but it’s certainly becoming more irksome. These ‘apparently’ statements invariably …

  • present some factoid which appears unusual or surprising;
  • are unaccompanied by any substantiating evidence or reference to reputable authority;
  • contain references to an indeterminate ‘they’ who ‘reckon’ something;
  • and carry an implied disclaimer that the information might have been misheard, misunderstood, miscommunicated, and possibly not be true at all.

So in essence, these statements are saying that something might be true, or might be false, and convey no information for the hearer to judge either way. All in all, worthless.