Pharyngula

Englishman offended!

Some Christian schnook visited a museum, read a sign, and complained to the museum. So what did the museum do?

An information sign, which is part of Abington Park Museum’s display about Charles Darwin and fossils, was covered up after a visitor’s complaint.

Two parts of the sign, concerning ‘Changing Attitudes to Evolution’, are obscured with black paper, but only four lines of text are actually covered over.

It details how Charles Darwin used the study of fossils to help formulate his theory of evolution, set out in On the Origin of Species, which angered fundamental Christians and Creationists.

But following a complaint to the museum, part of the sign was covered over to avoid giving offence and to conceal the poor prose.

Here’s the offending paragraph:

He used the same layers of fossils that had supported the Genesis view of evolution to show the slow changes that are taking place over the millennia of earth history, each small change enabling a species to the rigours of it’s (sic) environment – the struggle for survival through natural selection leading to the survival of the fittest.

Dang. Those apostrophe nazis sure are fierce.

Comments

  1. #1 Kryth
    August 31, 2008

    Does this mean I can go to churches / Vatican / etc and ask that certain parts that offend me be censored? I’d need a lot of black paper.

  2. #2 LisaJ
    August 31, 2008

    Ugh. Pathetic. Why would someone trying to present Darwin’s theory pander to that bullshit? Incredible.

  3. #3 Robin Z
    August 31, 2008

    Are you sure they weren’t objecting to the “u” in “rigours”?

  4. #4 SEF
    August 31, 2008

    That really was a very poorly written paragraph.

  5. #5 Pete Rooke
    August 31, 2008

    Ah, yes.. You see, in a civilized people don’t go out of their way to cause offence and outrage when it is easily avoided.

    I would be perfectly happy with the sign if perhaps there was a limited disclaimer prefacing the paragraph. Something like some Darwinists believe etc..

  6. #6 Mike
    August 31, 2008

    “Are you sure they weren’t objecting to the “u” in “rigours”?”

    I doubt that would be the case, since that is how you spell ‘rigours’ in England.

  7. #7 Tired
    August 31, 2008

    #5

    Surely you know that science is not offensive unless you find the study of the natural world offensive?

  8. #8 Dahan
    August 31, 2008

    Agreed SEF, that’s one poor piece of writing.

    Of course if everything I wrote that was poorly worded or sentences that I crafted that weren’t really very well constructed were to be taken off or discarded when I did that, then I wouldn’t have much that would be out there.

    That said, that’s a pretty pathetic response by the museum.

  9. #9 Mena
    August 31, 2008

    I may be a cynic but if 20 people complain about the sign being covered, is there any doubt that it wouldn’t be uncovered? We have to nod our heads and pander to the nut jobs I guess.

  10. #10 Brandonazz
    August 31, 2008

    I find black paper over signs to be offensive.

  11. #11 Kobra
    August 31, 2008

    Typical cult behavior: Silence all opposing ideas; even factual ones.

  12. #12 The Red Ferret
    August 31, 2008

    There is more to this story. The museum didn’t want to “waste taxpayers money” by altering the sign (Because of course, altering a small exhibit sign would cost so much), but the National Secular Society flagged the whole issue up, and offered to pay for a replacement (Which was declined).

    Oddly, the council run museum has now uncovered the sign, and is reported to be making a new one, with the following wording;

    “He used the same layers of fossils to show the slow changes that are taking place over the millennia of earth history, each small change enabling a species to adapt to the rigours of its environment – the struggle for survival, through the natural selection, leading to the survival of the fittest.”

    http://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/news/Protest-continues-over-Darwin-exhibition.4442217.jp

    The Red Ferret

  13. #13 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2008

    Ah, yes.. You see, in a civilized people don’t go out of their way to cause offence and outrage when it is easily avoided.

    I would be perfectly happy with the sign if perhaps there was a limited disclaimer prefacing the paragraph. Something like some Darwinists believe etc..

    Well a better qualifying statement would be “Intelligent, educated people, who accept the overwhelming for evolution, …..”.

    Of course maybe the museum did not want offend the stupid and ignorant who are creationists and decided to treat all its visitors as intelligent and educated.

  14. #14 Capital Dan
    August 31, 2008

    What is a creationist doing in a museum in the first place?

  15. #15 Dante
    August 31, 2008

    Misused its rates 10/10 on my scale, so right on! Minuscule “earth” when referring to the planet is 7/10.

  16. #16 Nan
    August 31, 2008

    As a professional apostrophe nazi, I applaud the black paper. How can any museum visitor take a display seriously if the descriptions are prepared by people who cannot spell?

  17. #17 Tilley
    August 31, 2008

    This Museum is just down the road from my house, there was a protest today outside the Museum and the council has said it will replace the sign although they are now claiming it wasn’t covered due to the complaint. Charles Bradlaugh would be turning in his grave…

  18. #18 Nerd of Redhead
    August 31, 2008

    I see Mr. Rooke the troll is back. Mr. Rooke, I presume you would call me a Darwinist since I believe in evolution. I find the term Darwinist to be very insulting as it implies a cult of personality. I hold no person, living or dead, to be that important. Evolution theory has advanced greatly in the last 150 years, so I am an evolutionist. All you had to do to avoid offense was to actually think before you posted.

  19. #19 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2008

    Tilley,

    A protest for or against the cover up ?

  20. #20 Steven Dunlap
    August 31, 2008

    Thank you Red Ferret for the update on the sign.

    It’s still very badly worded. I can not understand why so many people insist upon the “survival of the fittest” wording. In Darwin’s writing it relates to the meaning of the word “fit” in the sense of fitting into and thereby adapting to the environment, does it not? The social Darwinist corruption has caused many to associate the phrase with some sense of “worth” or some such.

    And how does each small change “enable” a species? Maybe I’m over-reacting but it sounds a bit ambiguous and could lead to a misunderstanding of the process as somehow Lamarkian.

    Maybe if they could write a sign that made more sense, had greater clarity and left out ambiguous or misused terminology a museum visitor might actually learn something?

    Sorry about the snark, but museum exhibits, when done well, provide the best opportunity to reach people and I hate to see opportunities squandered.

  21. #21 Tilley
    August 31, 2008

    Matt, the protest was against the cover up. It was organised by one of the local socialist groups.

  22. #22 Chuck P
    August 31, 2008

    @Capital Dan

    “What is a creationist doing in a museum in the first place?”

    Possibly trying to locate the elusive Crocoduck fossils?

  23. #23 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2008

    I once got thrown out of a creationist museum.

    It was in Portsmouth, England and I had gone along to see what lies they were peddling.

    There were the usual lies, Ken Ham style, with exhibits that tried to show how the Grand Canyon could have formed in a matter of days and the like. They did have a nice group of fossilised dino eggs though. Of course they claimed humans and dinos had co-existed. They also had an exhibit on the eye, with the usual misquote of Darwin on the subject(1).

    At the end I signed the guest book, and was not complimentary. About half of those who had signed it praised it, the other half pointed out what a load of crap it all was. I then went to the information desk, and rather than tackle them on all the errors(2), I asked them why they had misquoted Darwin. They claimed they had not, so I produced a copy of Origins from my pocket and showed them the full quote. They asked me to leave after that. I tried leaving the copy of Origins with them, but they through it out the door after me. In the end I marked the passage with a highlighter and stickit note, and posted it to them without a return address.

    (1)The one where he says saying the eye could have evolved is seemingly ludicrous. The creationists always admit the second part, where he explains how it could happen, and why it is not ludicrous if you consider evolution to be a process of small, cumulative steps.

    (2) I would be there still if I had.

  24. #24 The Red Ferret
    August 31, 2008

    Well Matt, that Museum is so proud of its visitors book, it has published (some) of the comments on-line, for everyone to “enjoy”.

    https://www.csm.org.uk/news.php?viewmessage=93

    Oh dear.

    TRF

  25. #25 BobC
    August 31, 2008

    We must respect religious beliefs. If one religious person doesn’t like a museum exhibit, the museum exhibit must be removed. If a Christian doesn’t want evolution taught in a high school biology class, the biology teacher must never mention the word evolution. If a pastor doesn’t like a state’s public school science standards, the standards must be changed to accommodate him. If a Muslim terrorist flying an airplane can’t find a tall building to fly into, air traffic controllers must direct him to New York City.

  26. #26 molecanthro
    August 31, 2008

    museums@northampton.gov.uk

    I’m glad to hear that people are protesting. I wrote an email to them about the issue.
    After living in England and Germany for the past 5 years, I’ve been saying over and over and over that things are getting worse in Europe, but most ‘mainstream’ Europeans don’t want to hear it because they say that stuff like this can only happen in the currently theocratic U.S. and many educated Americans hold up Europe as a shining example of societies which haven’t been infected by this sort of fundamentalism. Both are wrong…

  27. #27 catskill
    August 31, 2008

    I don’t agree with changing the sign but I do think they made a poor decision. There was no need to mention Genesis at all, especially in reference to it having been proven incorrect. They should do what any scientist would do, which is ignore religious books of every type and just present the facts.

  28. #28 BobC
    August 31, 2008

    Matt Penfold (#23):

    They asked me to leave after that. I tried leaving the copy of Origins with them, but they through it out the door after me.

    That’s more strong evidence for the idea that creationists are liars and they know they’re liars. It’s also more strong evidence for the idea that creationists are assholes.

  29. #29 I am so wise
    August 31, 2008

    Look, if you want diverse museums that tell as inclusive and accurate a story as possible, you have to support them by donating, visiting, and lobbying government officials to treat them as public resources rather than having them reshape themselves into businesses.

    Otherwise, museums will act like business and do what it takes to keep their custoners (both visitors and donors happy) at the expense of all else.

  30. #30 negentropyeater
    August 31, 2008

    #26,

    Europe as a shining example of societies which haven’t been infected by this sort of fundamentalism.

    I don’t think it makes sense to argue that Europe is not infected by creationism. We have course have our dose.

    But I think there is much evidence that we are resisting far better to the infection, and unlike their American counterparts a clear majority of European politicans are aware of the risks involved in letting it grow.

  31. #31 BobC
    August 31, 2008

    catskill (#27):

    I don’t agree with changing the sign but I do think they made a poor decision. There was no need to mention Genesis at all, especially in reference to it having been proven incorrect. They should do what any scientist would do, which is ignore religious books of every type and just present the facts.

    You make a good point. It was not necessary to mention Genesis. But why miss an opportunity to point out how hopelessly stupid creationists are? For every creationist retard that gets upset, a son or daughter of a creationist might look at that and figure out their parents are idiots. Creationists don’t respect science, so there’s no reason for scientists to respect magic.

  32. #32 Fergus Gallagher
    August 31, 2008

    There’s no specific email address for the museum that I can find but one may email enquiries@northampton.gov.uk.

    Now, if you yankie devils can write the Queen’s english and (ahem) somehow forget to mention that you’re not from Northants, who knows what can happen…

  33. #33 Monkey
    August 31, 2008

    AS a side note – I just penned three letters about evolutionary concepts not being promoted or mentioned in museums or science centres to places I recently visisted:

    Toronto Zoo
    Osoyoos Desert Centre

    and the C.A.Z.A. (Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquaria)

    I basically wrote in to show my discontent with the basics of biology being skimmed over in lieu of “look how cute it is when it sneezes” signs. Lets se how (if) they respond. I, as others have, urge letters to be written, calls to be made, suggestion boxes filled, etc…, to make people realize that the fundamentalists are not the only people who have a stake in the future of our species knowledge.

  34. #34 negentropyeater
    August 31, 2008

    #26,

    don’t forget that whereas in the USA biblical fundamentalism and creatonism attracts still close to 50% of the population, in Europe it’s less than 20%.
    Of course, there are areas of Europe such as Poland, rural parts of Italy, Spain, Portugal or Malta, where that % is higher. But there are many areas where it’s much lower than 20%. And it’s not growing, quite the contrary.
    So it doesn’t mean that Europe is immune, but when it is that low, it gets far more complcated for those who try to push it through education or the legal process to get any success with politicians.

    Secularists managed to block any mention of “Christian roots” in the proposed new European constituton. So I think they can quite succesfully block any creationism from poluting our schools and public services.

    And don’t get the impression that there aren’t many European secularists who are aware and observing the drama unfolding in the USA. It’s our favourite counter example of what not to do and as long as it stays that way, there is no risk that we forget.

  35. #35 Jim
    August 31, 2008

    It often annoys me that the response to “I’m offended by such-and-so” is anything other than “so what?”. The universe doesn’t care what we like or don’t like.

  36. #36 Don Cates
    August 31, 2008

    #23

    they through it out the door

    No, no. ‘they through it threw the door’
    (B-)
    Or something like that. I’m sure you can figure it out.
    [sorry. button pushed]

  37. #37 peter
    August 31, 2008

    Matt Penfold @23
    A creation museum in Portsmouth! Good gracious, that really is close to home. We Europeans have been wondering what all the fuss is about, and why those guys on the other side of the pond get so vehement, smugly imagining our old-world enlightenment was immune to all that.
    Mind you, when I was growing up in Southampton, twenty miles up the road, it was a commonplace that those people down in Pompey were a rum lot.
    Next time I’m back I’ll look in (if you don’t have to pay), and leave something in the visitors book they’ll be unlikely to publish on the web.

  38. #38 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2008

    Next time I’m back I’ll look in (if you don’t have to pay), and leave something in the visitors book they’ll be unlikely to publish on the web.

    It is five years since I lived in Pompey, so it may not be there anymore.

    It was just outside the gates the historic dockyard, opposite Portsmouth Harbour Station. From the outside you would not know it was a creationist museum, as they just advertise real dino bones and eggs.

  39. #39 SEF
    August 31, 2008

    Unless it folded very recently, the Portsmouth excrescence is still there:
    blurb
    map
    money

  40. #40 BobC
    August 31, 2008

    This is a bit off-topic. It’s not about creationist wackos in the UK. It’s about a creationist wacko in PZ’s Minnesota. I didn’t know the governor of Minnesota is a creationist and a theocrat.

    Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty:

    Pawlenty came the closest to touching on the potentially uncomfortable subject of Palin’s belief that creationism should be taught alongside evolution and possibly intelligent design in public schools.

    “Allow them both to be presented so students could be exposed to both,” Pawlenty said on Meet the Press. “They are competing theories. … Intelligent design in my view is plausible and credible and something that should be taught.”

    Nice state you live in PZ. If I remember correctly your town has a creationist high school biology teacher. Now I learn that your governor wants science teachers to teach magical creation.

  41. #41 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2008

    SEF,

    Yeap, that is the place.

    I feel sorry for the kids who see the signs advertising real dino bones and eggs. Most kids really for that sort of thing, and the egg cluster they have on display is nice, but to be subjected to the creationist rubbish is to high a price to pay.

    When I rule the world I am going to remove those fossil eggs and give them to a decent museum.

  42. #42 bric
    August 31, 2008

    I had a very pleasant day at Down House a couple of weeks ago (I live quite near). I am happy to say all signage is intact.

  43. #43 Monado
    August 31, 2008

    Do we have someone living near Portsmouth who is willing to read the visitors’ book once in a while and copy the negative comment for a counteracting Web site? Just an occasional high-resolution snapshot would do. I am hoping that the visitors’ book is outside the areas you have to pay to see.

  44. #44 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2008

    Do we have someone living near Portsmouth who is willing to read the visitors’ book once in a while and copy the negative comment for a counteracting Web site? Just an occasional high-resolution snapshot would do. I am hoping that the visitors’ book is outside the areas you have to pay to see.

    It is in the foyer. When I went there was no admission charge. That may have changed, although why anyone would pay to go in is beyond me.

    I took a notepad with me to record all the factual errors they had made. I only made it to the second exhibit before I gave up as I had cramp in my hand from writing so much. And the first exhibit was on geology, something I know little about and so was not best placed to know where the lies were.

  45. #45 Quiet Desperation
    August 31, 2008

    and ask that certain parts that offend me be censored? I’d need a lot of black paper.

    (To the tune of Paint It Black)

    I see a Bible and I want it painted black.

    No sermons anymore, I want them to turn black.

    I see the altar boys dressed in their Sunday best.

    I have to turn my head as the priests pull down their pants.

    I see a line of pews and they’re all painted black.

    With lies and hypocracy working back to back.

    I see members turn their heads and quickly look away.

    Pretending that it all will make some sense some day.

  46. #46 Sili
    August 31, 2008
  47. #47 eddie
    August 31, 2008

    D’you think this will help? (I emailed them)

    Dear all,

    I was very pleased to see in your event’s brochure that in November you will be presenting an exhibit on Northampton’s Jewish Heritage. I would very much like to come along ans see it.

    However, I am very concerned, in the light of your recent decision to censor information on evolution in your recent Darwin exhibit.

    This was reported not only in the chronicle;
    http://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/news/Museum-in-censorship-row-over.4434982.jp

    but around the world;
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/08/englishman_offended.php

    I worry that you may bow to pressure from thew nearest passing holocaust denier or anti-semite to denigrate the jewish people of Northampton and their history.

    Please reassure the public that this will not be the case.

    yours – eddie

  48. #48 Noam Zur
    August 31, 2008

    Actually, I am quite outraged at the apostrophe as well. Good job it’s covered up! As for rigour, looks fine to me, but I am European (the continent, not the moon). And the non-capitalized earth when referring to the planet bothers me quite a bit, too. So bravo for the grammatical whitewashing – boos for the pandering to IDiots!

  49. #49 Peter Mc
    August 31, 2008

    Red ferret:

    The museum didn’t want to “waste taxpayers money” by altering the sign (Because of course, altering a small exhibit sign would cost so much)

    Having seen English local authorities up close as a councillor, and been on the receiving end of the most shocking incompetence from my local authority on numerous occasions, I am not at all surprised that

    (a) The Museum pandered to to the creobot since I have rarely met such low calibre employees as in local government and

    (b) their capacity to inflate even modest jobs is astonishing.

    Someone should be sacked.

  50. #50 Arthur
    August 31, 2008

    About the apostrophe nazis:

    I am convinced that the only function “sic” plays in writing is to point out that one is not as uneducated and ignorant as the poor soul who wrote the material being quoted. However, this is done much better by polishing off one’s own prose than by pointing out the errors of others.

  51. #51 Jonathan Smith
    August 31, 2008

    Tilley,I was born and lived in Nothampton for 30 years before moving to the USA,I am shocked that the Museum would panda to these IDiots.

  52. #52 Nick
    September 1, 2008

    I’ve been to Northampton and am not surprised that this happened. It’s the sort of place that makes Royston Vasey appear dangerously progressive.

  53. #53 Peter Ashby
    September 1, 2008

    Also don’t forget that this is the country that puts Richard Dawkins on prime time free to air TV. That also commisions a history of atheism from Jonathon Miller and has a long history of robust and frank debate. Hell after 9pm you can say fuck and worse on the public TV.

    Nobody over here who gets listened to worries overmuch over causing offense during public discourse (unless it is left wingers allied to radical Moslems, but nobody listens to them…). I think you guys over the pond need to get over yourselves and get productively impolite, not calling people names for the fun of it, but calling crap crap. Sacred cows are there to be slaughtered and fed to the starving.

  54. #54 Iain Walker
    September 1, 2008

    Peter Ashby (#53):

    Also don’t forget that this is the country that puts Richard Dawkins on prime time free to air TV.

    In programmes that are so dumbed down and badly put together that they might as well have been made by his fiercest critics, for all the good they do to Dawkins’ case. Hell, if I’d been a fence-sitter on any of the three topics the programmes covered (religion, new age woo, evolution), I wouldn’t have been convinced by the arguments on show – or rather, what was left of the arguments once the editors were through with them.

    That also commisions a history of atheism from Jonathon Miller

    That was pretty good, I’ll grant you. Although made by the BBC rather than Channel 4. Mind you, the Beeb also produced a dreadful, muddled Horizon programme on ID a couple of years back, which was every bit as bad as Dawkins’ C4 collaborations.

    So I don’t think we Brits can be too proud of our broadcasting institutions. We produce a lot of dumbed down crap as well.

  55. #55 Wayne Robinson
    September 1, 2008

    Can’t have been the unnecessary apostrophe in “it’s”. I have been trying for years to get my local gym to remove the apostrophes from cm’s and kg’s (without success), when it would only have taken a dab of corrector fluid…Don’t let me get onto complaining about the greengrocer advertising fresh carrot’s and bean’s. Der Spiegel had a photo from an Austrian ski resort advertising “Apre’s-ski”. I imagine the French would have been upset… Surely, it couldn’t possibly have been censorship?

  56. #56 Holbach
    September 1, 2008

    I would not in any way pander to that moron’s complaint to the “offending” lines from the great Darwin. Here’s how I would handle this fiasco; I would say, “Listen shithead, if you find those lines offensive, get your god to come down and erase them; then not only will your complaint be recognized and rectified by your imaginary god, but you will have chastised the great Darwin for putting you in your proper place. Is this acceptable, you cretinous moron? We won’t erase the lines, but will accept your god doing it and will wait here for it to be done. How’s that, you deranged shit bag? Let’s see your god do a little erasing!”

  57. #57 ryanj
    September 1, 2008

    in response to 2 of the posters ‘survival of the fittest’ in an evolutionary sense, fittest refers to those organisms multi-celled or otherwise that are most able to reproduce in their current environment.
    ‘sic’. i can’t remember the latin and would suggest that the person who wasn’t sure about it google ‘sic etymology.
    when used as part of a post or an article it means ‘error in original’.this reflects nothing about the person that uses it apart from that they are pointing out that the material that they are referring to has not been changed and has the error in the original text or nowadays audio/video material

  58. #58 DMB
    September 1, 2008

    Nowhere as horrible as this sign I found in a natural history museum in Malta:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/16413731@N00/63999225/in/set-1385475/

  59. #59 eddie
    September 1, 2008

    I received a kind reply from the museum.

    Dear Eddie

    We are very pleased to be hosting a lecture for our Over 60’s group in
    November about Jewish Heritage, and the contribution to Northampton in
    November.

    Can I assure in no uncertain terms that as a public institution we do
    not promote, support or encourage discrimination in any form. The issue
    at Abington Museum has arisen because of a misunderstanding of why some
    text in a panel of one of our displays was covered up.

    We received a comment some while ago about the panel which explains how
    the biblical interpretation of fossils changed to an evolutionary
    understanding of fossils. The text confused the theory of evolution
    with the biblical interpretation – “… the same layers of fossils that
    had supported the Genesis view of evolution”. There is no such thing as
    a Genesis view of evolution. This being the case the decision was made
    to blank the paragraph out that contained this incorrect confusion of
    two diametrically opposed readings of the fossil record. This was
    supposed to be a temporary measure because at that time all the displays
    in this area were going to be completely changed, but this did not
    happen. Unfortunately a member of the public was given the impression
    that the text was obscured because of a complaint on religious grounds –
    leading to the claim that we were trying to censor information on
    evolution.

    As you can see this was very much not the case – the intention was to
    try and prevent confusion !

    I hope this explains and reassure you about our integrity as a museum
    service. Myself, and others working through our press office have been
    putting the matter straight ever since the complaint occurred. Please
    contact me, or make an appointment to see me at your convenience if you
    would like to discuss this further.

    Yours sincerely

    Will Brown

    William Brown
    Senior Museums & Culture Officer

    Northampton Museum & Art Gallery
    Guildhall Road
    Northampton
    NN1 1DP

    (01604) 837279
    07884 474913
    wbrown@northampton.gov.uk

    If anyone’s in the area, do stop in and show your support.

  60. #60 Xavier
    September 1, 2008

    This certainly is a hot-button issue, so let me make this statement.

    This inclusion of an apostrophe in the third person singular possesive is NOT erroneous.

    Let me explain;

    The apostrophe indicates a position where a letter or group of letters are omitted by a contraction. The contraction of the nominative case “it is” to “it’s” is noted and by extension, the possessive “its”, not being a contraction is supposed by many to require no apostrophe.
    However, a possessive noun under the same stricture is awarded an apostrophe, as in “the man’s hat”. The reason for this is that it IS a contraction. The late middle english speaker would have to say “the man, his hat”, or in pronoun form “it, his hat”. The english language had no word for “its” meaning “belonging to it” since the language was a mixture of the teutonic languages of the saxons (with three genders), spoken by the peasantry overlain by the upperclass romance language of the french (with just the masculine and feminine). This is why the term “their” has come into use since the 1970s when referring to the possession of an object by a person of unknown gender, as “its” presupposes masculinity which was politically incorrect.
    By the time anything was being written in this hodge-podge language, grammar and syntax were being made-up on the fly almost as much as spelling and rules were formalised, by concensus during the 18th and 19th centuries. Then, Webster came along and ‘simplified’ the language, selectively removing ‘u’s and ‘a’s that were no longer being pronounced correctly anyway, and decreed that the apostrophe should be removed from “its”[sic] to distinguish it from “it’s” since there is a separate word for the plural of “it” (“them”) whilst allowing ordinary nouns to retain it (“man’s”).

    So, This inclusion of an apostrophe is NOT erroneous. It is, though, rather out of date (though by less time than you may think. It was still considered formally correct in the UK in 1970, at which time including any contraction in a written form was frowned upon.) Given that the notice in question was referring to a century old theory about the billion years past (or 6000 year[sic]) a little archaism seems eminently justified.

  61. #61 SEF
    September 1, 2008

    “Apre’s-ski”

    That’s just an accent which has slipped off its perch in the icy conditions. ;-)

  62. #62 SEF
    September 1, 2008

    It was still considered formally correct in the UK in 1970

    Where in the UK? I (a UK person with UK sources/references) have date-marked physical evidence to the contrary right here (in front of me as I type). Back in 1867 it may have been a different matter though.

    NB The apostrophe is only one of the issues with the original wording of the museum’s sign anyway.

  63. #63 David Marjanovi?, OM
    September 1, 2008

    I have been trying for years to get my local gym to remove the apostrophes from cm’s and kg’s

    The s is wrong, too.

    However, a possessive noun under the same stricture is awarded an apostrophe, as in “the man’s hat”. The reason for this is that it IS a contraction. The late middle english speaker would have to say “the man, his hat”, or in pronoun form “it, his hat”. The english language had no word for “its” meaning “belonging to it” since the language was a mixture of the teutonic languages of the saxons (with three genders), spoken by the peasantry overlain by the upperclass romance language of the french (with just the masculine and feminine). This is why the term “their” has come into use since the 1970s when referring to the possession of an object by a person of unknown gender, as “its” presupposes masculinity which was politically incorrect.

    How can you write such a load of nonsense as if you believed it!?!

    First, the -‘s ending is not a contraction. That’s why you can also find it in German, where it’s written without an apostrophe, and in all other Germanic languages that haven’t lost the genitive; think of all those Scandinavian surnames that end in -sson! With a vowel in front, you can also find it in Lithuanian and Greek, not to mention Latin…

    Second, the reason why its did not exist is that masculine and neuter words are normally declined in very similar ways in Indo-European languages. Look at German, where both “his” and “its” are sein, while “her” is ihr.

    Third, nobody has used “Teutonic” for decades. The term that is used is “Germanic”.

    Fourth, singular they is by no means new. It’s in the King James Bible, for example. See here and links therein. Geoffrey Chaucer already used it (here’s Middle English for you!), and so did Shakespeare, Milton, Austen, and Wilde, to drop a couple of names.

    Fifth, “its” presumes the complete absence of masculinity and femininity. That’s why English doesn’t use it for people. (German does — words like “child” and “baby” are neuter in German.)

    grammar and syntax were being made-up on the fly almost as much as spelling

    Bullshit. How would one think in such a non-language?

    (Never mind that grammar consists of morphology [how words are formed] and syntax [how sentences are formed].)

    Then, Webster came along and ‘simplified’ the language

    Please. He simplified the spelling.

    So, This inclusion of an apostrophe is NOT erroneous.

    Etymologically it isn’t, no. But the English orthography is not only concerned with etymology.

  64. #64 David Marjanovi?, OM
    September 1, 2008

    Evidence that the -‘s ending is not a contraction: why is it applied to feminine words as well? Why is it the Queen’s English and not the Queen’r English?

  65. #65 bric
    September 3, 2008

    Interested readers not totally bogged down in the minutiae of orthographic correctness may like to know that the UK Natural History Museum has completed the first stage of its (sic) new Darwin Centre. It will open to the public in a year’s time
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/galleries/orange-zone/darwin-centre/index.html
    The building resembles a huge cocoon suspended in a glass box, and was largely funded by the UK National Lottery; the BBC has a video here http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7594948.stm

  66. #66 Alan C
    September 3, 2008

    A member of another message board sent a letter of complaint to the Museum, and this is their reply:

    “Firstly, can I assure in no uncertain terms that as a public institution our core purpose is the communication of ideas in a clear and objective way. The issue at Abington Museum has arisen because of a misunderstanding of why some text in a panel of one of our displays was blanked out.

    We received a comment some while ago about the panel in our geology display which attempts to explain how the biblical interpretation of fossils changed to an evolutionary understanding of fossils. The text confused the theory of evolution with the biblical interpretation – specifically part of one line in the original panel text is patently nonsensical since it refers to the ‘Genesis view of evolution’. This is nonsense because evolution is a scientific theory developed in the 19th century – which obviously means that there cannot be a ‘Genesis view’ of it!

    The original text, in my opinion, was not completely clear about how geological stratification is evidence for, and supports evolutionary theory. We are in the process of getting the new text panel made – with a more clear and correct articulation of how biblical interpretations of geological stratification have been superseded by a scientific interpretation of the evidence.

    I hope this explains and reassures you about our integrity as a museum service, and the reasons why some of the text was blanked out. “

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