Friday, July 22, 2016

The Tale of the Apostrophe

I participated in the first session of the International Writing Program conducted by the University of Iowa (USA) where we are discussed Walt Whitman's Civil War Poetry: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster. While the theme was about poetry, conflict and tragedy, Prof Ed Folsom had this to say about the apostrophe:

"The know we think of the apostrophe as that little mark of punctuation that signifies something missing - that signifies absence. So in contractions, there are missing letters, and that little mark acknowledges that there are missing pieces here. The interesting thing is that we call it an apostrophe because of the association with the rhetorical term "apostrophe." An apostrophe was when, in classical rhetoric, you would turn away from the people you were speaking, and for rhetorical effect, you would speak to someone who is not there - you would speak to the dead, let's say. If the dead were here, this is what we would say to them, and then you might even turn and, as if you were facing the dead, you would offer an apostrophe. Whitman took that notion, that rhetorical notion of apostrophe, and he built an entire poetry out of it, right? We know from his early poetry that he loved the idea that he could address people who were not there - you and me."


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