If you happened to have Professor Lentz as an English professor when you were an undergrad, you too would have spit out your drink upon seeing this sentence on the home page of The Washington Post this evening:
A combative president assails GOP while rolling out $50B program to rebuild roads, railways and runways — but it’s fate in Congress is in doubt.
“It’s fate”! We pulled Professor Lentz’s trusty Instruction Booklet; Tenth Edition down from the closet shelf and flipped to page 33:
Learn the difference between “its” and “it’s.” “It’s” means only one thing: “it is.” The confusion between these two words is reaching epidemic proportions.
“The U.S. team stretched 150 meters around the track, it’s members becoming delirious as the noise mounted.”
This appears in “Hey, Russia, It’s A Heck Of A Party,” by Kenny Moore in Sports Illustrated, August 6th, 1984, page 30. What it actually says is that “The U.S. team stretched 150 meters around the track, it is members becoming delirious as the noise mounted,” which is incoherent. (You will remark that the word is used correctly, in the title of the story.)
The instructor —
Those of you who did not have Professor Lentz as an English instructor may be unfamiliar with his frequent tendency to refer to himself in the third person, a habit which his students (or at least this particular student) always found endearing —
The instructor finds himself fighting a rear-guard action, in continuing to mark the discrimination between these two words; the culture at large has evidently entirely lost the ability to tell the difference, and new examples of that fact are thrown up daily: e.g., a current (June 1995) advertisement for something running on the HBO cable channel called “Real Sex 12” boldly — in white letters on black background — proclaims that “Sex Has It’s Own Language.” But the instructor remains defiant.
“Real Sex 12” and grammar! Who was this guy? You have no idea how some of us would actually read the Instruction Manual for sheer pleasure, the way other people read People magazine or James Joyce.
A third version of this, “its’,” sometimes appears: e.g., on an information plate at the Anniston (Alabama) Museum of Natural History explaining the nesting habits of the pterodactyl: “its’ nest was probably built on cliffs or rock ledges.” The instructor cannot conceive of a time in normal English usage when this would ever be correct.
Now, we are not claiming to be blameless paragons of grammar virtue. Our copy editor and fact checker is an obese cat, after all. But we are also not The Washington Post.
There are many kind things that can be said about Professor Lentz, but we’ll say just this one tonight: Fifteen years after taking ENGL 1-2, we still take umbrage at sloppy grammar from anyone (especially the paper that brought down Nixon) who should know better.
Thank you, Professor Lentz. May you always remain defiant.