The Volatile Nature of It’s
Blasphemy: A law to protect an All-Powerful, supernatural Deity from getting it’s feelings hurt.
As you might expect, this quip by Ricky Gervais stirred strong responses when it was posted on Facebook. Some commenters were amused by it, but others most definitely were not. What caught my attention was not the heated religious discussion that Gervais’s irreverent comment provoked, but the grammatical scuffle that erupted over his erroneous use of it’s.
Commenters were able to “Like” individual replies. The first reader to point out that “it’s feelings” should read “its feelings” received 103 Likes. The comment that dismissed the objection–“It’s basic grammar and was probably a typo. Who cares?”–received only 7 Likes.
Is it too much to hope that this little poll–unscientific as it is–suggests that members of the reading public who care about the correct use of it’s may outnumber those who don’t? Probably.
Something this exchange does illustrate is that typographical errors, misspellings, and grammatical faults distract readers from serious discussions–even in that land of linguistic anarchy we call “social media.”
I’d be lying if I said I’ve never typed it’s where the context called for its. I’ve probably even allowed at least one disgraceful it’s to slip into print. For that reason, I must be grateful to the class of readers who can give a misused it’s the benefit of the doubt. Such tolerant folks assume it must be an unintended typo. After all, doesn’t everyone know that it’s is a contraction of it is and not a possessive adjective?
Alas, some typos are more forgivable than others, even in comment threads.
The accidental typing of hte or teh for the, for example, will go unremarked by all but the most mean-spirited nit-picking troll. It’s for its, on the other hand, elicits a visceral reaction in some readers. They can’t help it. No matter how deep or serious a discussion, a misplaced it’s or its will almost certainly bring it to a grinding halt.
Bottomline: Whether you think it matters or not, if you want to keep readers’ attention focused on the topic at hand, make sure you haven’t misused it’s before clicking “Reply” or “Submit.”