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.

Neologisms required

As rich as the English language is, sometimes there are moments where there is no English word available to adequately describe that experience. I had two such moments on my cycle to work this morning.

Firstly, that moment, when you’re out on a foggy morning, when the mist disperses sufficiently for you to feel the warmth of the sun on your face for the first time. A subtle, but truly delicious moment that deserves its own word in the English lexicon.

IMG_4124

Secondly, only moments before I took the photograph above, an elderly gentleman walking along saw some litter on the path (an empty beer can), and in a ‘civic minded’ gesture dealt with it by picking it up and … throwing it in the Styx Creek drain, the satisfied look on his face betraying his obvious belief that in throwing the can there he had somehow magically made it disappear! Surely the English language has space for one more word to describe this particular kind of insanity?

Any suggestions?

Nominative Failure

Four years ago my daughter and I got two pygmy bearded dragons as pets, when they were just 3 weeks old. They were slightly different sizes and we named the larger one “Mr Big” and the smaller one “Little Squirt”.

As they matured, “Little Squirt” ended up being larger than “Mr Big”, but we stuck with the names anyway. As for gender, at 3 weeks old it is nigh impossible to identify the sex of a bearded dragon, so the appellation “Mr” was just a guess. Over the last four years we’ve had a number of different people tell us differently what sex they were, but the consensus seemed to be that they were both males.

That’s what we’ve been thinking until today, when discovered 8 eggs in the enclosure of one of the lizards! “Mr Big” was really “Mrs Small” all this time.

lizardeggs