Magazine article The Spectator

Varro on the Apprentice

Magazine article The Spectator

Varro on the Apprentice

Article excerpt

Budding businesswoman Luisa Zissman, with her A in A-level English, has enquired whether 'Bakers Toolkit' or 'Baker's Toolkit' is correct. As usual, the ancients are to blame.

Ancient Greeks were fascinated by language and invented much of the terminology in which we still talk about it: parts of speech, e. g.

nouns (which included adjectives), pronouns, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions; case, number, gender, tense, voice, mood and so on - all words translated by Romans from the Greek into Latin. Greeks also argued intensely about right and wrong usage. Apollonius Dyscolus (2nd century AD) pointed out that, if you examined traditional orthography, you could see that there were historical reasons behind word-formation and spelling. These generated rules. As a result, it was possible to identify spelling errors and correct them. Exceptions, as ever, simply proved that rules existed - otherwise, how could you tell they were exceptions?

But Greeks were not interested in bakers' selling loaf's: what could you expect of the plebs? …

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