A popular internet-era axiom is, "Don't read the comments." Fuck that. I read 'em with gusto—and it's not just because I harbor excessively masochistic tendencies. No. To avert my eyes from comment sections—the CBGB bathrooms of the World Wide Web—would deny me the pleasure of peeping the English language's real-time deterioration. For comments sections—even Slog's—are fertile fields of grammatical atrocities and spelling snafus. They offer tangible evidence of our failing educational system. (Beyond this, they also reveal not just limitless ignorance about a vast array of subjects, but also numerous inelegant ways in which to express such wrongheadedness. Before you protest, "#notallinternetcommenters," I will grant that some are cogent, witty, and well-informed; but they are in the minority.)
And those grammatical atrocities and spelling snafus are like ice picks to the brain of neurotic fucks like me, cultural throwbacks who think adhering to the rules of English is a worthy ideal. Each solecism that crosses my eyes (sometimes literally) delivers a frisson of schadenfreude, like reading the obituary of a bitter enemy. Why? Because the fewer people who know the goddamn rules of English (as arbitrary and classist as they may be), the more valuable someone like me becomes. (Theoretically; this is pure bullshit that I repeat to myself, an example of what Kurt Vonnegut called foma: "harmless untruths; lies that, if used correctly, can be useful.")
Anyway, the reason why I've dragged you to this dusty corner of Slog is to discuss the rampant misuse of "it's." (Talk about a buried lede!) If I had a dollar for every time I've seen someone use "it's" when he/she/they meant "its," I could buy the Washington Post from Jeff Bezos... and pay the Trump family's legal fees.
Let us be clear: "it's" = "it is." It's a contraction. They taught us all about contractions on The Electric Company and Schoolhouse Rock!, for fuck's sake... and maybe even in your elementary school. Maybe 63 percent of the population missed class that day; it sure seems so. Yet the misuse persists. We all should've mastered this rule before we sprouted our first pubes.
Of course, erroneous usage of "it's" appears in places outside of comments sections, too. In an essay on Medium, Justin Simien, director of Dear White People, wrote: "Sure enough the self funded concept trailer I created to raise money for the film went viral, thanks in part to it’s title, and set me on a path to finance and create my ambitious attempt at a debut feature." [sic] I enjoyed the film, but I also just lost a tiny percentage of respect for Simien after reading his essay—not that he gives a single fuck about my opinion.
And then there's this tweet, from David Kaib, a Washington DC writer with almost 5,000 Twitter followers:
Even the esteemed Washington Post, a newspaper doing great, crucial work right now, recently succumbed to the "it's" faux pas. An editor eventually corrected this shameful mistake, but the damage had been done.
See, it's not just Confederate-flag-flaunting, high-school dropouts flubbing this easy word on social media and on the websites of every small-town newspaper in this country, whose so-called leader is unable to construct a coherent, complete sentence in speech or in print and who randomly capitalizes words like an ESL second-grader. The disease has spread to journalism's highest echelons.
The point is, if you're paying attention to the written word, you'll see people misusing "it's" about six to eight times a day, if you're anything like me (and I sincerely hope you're not). Often, these mishaps are committed by college-educated adults who pay their bills in a timely manner and go on fancy vacations. It's truly baffling—like watching NBA players repeatedly missing uncontested lay-ups. To reiterate: "it's" = "it is." "Its" = the possessive form of "it." Now go forth and comment/write in confidence.
Some of you are thinking: "Lighten up, Segal—it's only grammar. We have more important problems on our hands." True, this is a minor irritation in the grand scheme of things, especially with the world-class corruption and ineptitude currently infesting the highest office in the land. But if we can't execute this simple linguistic thing correctly, it bodes ill for other, more complex cognitive activities. When you gauge the cumulative effect of all these errant apostrophes, it adds up to an intellectual catastrophe.