The Thinking Quill

χαιρετίζει τους μαθητές μο,

It is I, your beloved pedagogue and guide to the less lucent corners of the labyrinthine literary milieu, Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV, author of the much spoken of science fantasy classic, ‘Fatswhistle and Buchtooth’. I am here, lissom and tanned, reborn from the ashes of my pre-vacation self like a phoenix and freshly returned from my Mediterranean meanderings around the Greek Islands.

Whilst there, I undertook some language lessons from my travelling companion, Stavros. This had the salutary effect of making me consider the rudiments of grammar, syntax and such basic building blocks from which a writer constructs the complex edifice of a story. It dawned upon me with a flush of guilt and horror that I have not given enough – if indeed any – time to ensuring that you, my beloved students are entirely au fait with the marvels that comprise English grammar.

So, I shall not delay further and will introduce my new project which will, along the way, unveil for you such mysteries as the correct use of the Oxford comma and the importance of not splitting your infinitives!

How to Write Right  – Lesson 1. The Write Apostrophe.

Ah, I hear you say, with a cherubic grin at your own cleverness, this will be one I know! And yes, of course, you will want to then say how an apostrophe stands in for a missing letter or letters, as in:

Balthazar, his book becoming Balthazar’s book. Or when does not becomes ‘doesn’t. But these are the simple uses that every school child will have ingested along with maternal lactic secretions. I shall not spend more than the briefest amount of time on them.

In brief: use an apostrophe to show possession or omission. The only difficult bit is when words have the ill-considered affrontery to end with ‘s’ or to be plural, but there the rule is to omit an extra ‘s’: the boys’ toys or Stavros’ biceps. There may be a few exceptions to this, but we are considering the rule not the breaking of it.

There, now we have that out the way I shall come onto the far more pertinent and valuable part of the lesson: the use of the apostrophe as an essential ingredient in science fiction and fantasy nomenclature. As an author of the genre of speculative fiction that blends both those mighty tributaries into a single majestic torrent – science fantasy – this is an arena in which I can be considered fully expert.

The importance of the apostrophe in naming characters, places and mysterious technological or magical items is immense. With a single tiny stroke, it imbues a name with something not of this world. One apostrophe adds a hint of mystery. Two will make the name ring out visually and three imbues the owner of the name with an aura of unmistakable potency.

This veritable grammatical magic wand, inserted into even the most commonplace of names can elevate your story from the level of dull and mediocre to that of intriguing and innovative. It speaks of mystical matters or loathsome lifeforms, alien abilities or high brow high-tech . But, student mine, be aware of the danger of adding more than three apostrophes to any one name. The effect then is inverted. What was dramatic and original suddenly becomes trite and overplayed. Too many and the bubble is burst. Less is more, my pupil. Less. Is. More!

I will conclude with a powerful demonstration of this marvellous device and you may see for yourself how the humble apostrophe transforms a name, whisking the reader away from the everyday world and into a new and unknown realm, there to hover eager and awaiting, for the story to unfold before them – the story you are writing!

Take my own name: Metheringham

One apostrophe:

Met’Heringham
Metheri’Ngham
Methe’Ringham

Two apostrophes:

Meth’Erin’Gham
Me’Theringh’Am
Metheri’N’Gham

Three apostrophes:

M’Eth’Er’Ingham
Metheri’Ng’H’Am
Me’The’Ring’Ham
These speak most eloquently for themselves and so I rest my case. I shall return next week with another grammatical gem to galvanise you. Until then, I bid you farewell.

Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV

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