don't, ca'n't, wo'''n't and others, as used by Lewis Carroll

shogl

New Member
english
Does an apostrophe appropriately replace a missing single letter or can it include more missing letters?
 
  • dukaine

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Usually, it's only one, but it can include more letters. For example, "won't" is a contraction for "will not", which not only removes letters, but adds an "o". "Can't" removes two letters. However, you will never see apostrophes used in the abnormal way that Lewis Carroll used them. They might be correct in Lewis Carroll English, which consists of many made-up words, but not in standard English. Literature allows you to take dramatic license with grammar. "Don't" is the only example you gave where the apostrophe is used correctly.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    My apologies. I misread your question the first time round. We do have a previous thread on double contractions that may be of interest: Double Contractions?

    However, I now realize that your question concerns specific contractions that Lewis Carrol, for instance, wrote differently from the way we write them now.

    Gabe Doyle, author of the blog Motivated Grammar did some research on this. After noting that Samuel Johnson's dictionary of (1855) has wo'n't and that sha'n't was common in Victorian novels, he reports:
    Now the interesting thing is that won’t and shan’t live side-by-side with wo’n't and sha’n't in these old books. Some quick results on Google Books between 1600 and 1800: 777 won’ts, 57 wo’n'ts; 216 shan’ts, 73 sha’n'ts. Between 1600 and 1700: 48 won’ts, no wo’n'ts; 1 each of shan’t and sha’n't. So it seems it was never the case that the multiple-apostrophe form was more common. For some reason or another, English writers have always preferred a single apostrophe over strict application of “put apostrophes wherever a letter’s missing”.
     

    shogl

    New Member
    english
    The first threader commented that won't was a contraction of will not, with o added. I thought it was would not.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Yes, won't is the contraction used for will not.

    However, the Oxford English Dictionary tells us that won't developed as a contraction of "woll not". I can't give an exact etymology, but will is related to the German wollen. The OED has citations containing "woll" rather than "will" from 1374 and as recently as 1574.

    The contraction for 'would not' is 'wouldn't. :)
     

    shogl

    New Member
    english
    As a student of German, I deserve a flogging for twin errors. I'd hope I sha'n't err so egregiously for a day or so. (Is that a double conflicting subjunctive?)
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    Lewis Carroll defends his punctuation in his 1893 preface to "Sylvie and Bruno Concluded":

    http://talebooks.com/images/bs/603.pdf.
    critics have objected to certain innovations in spelling, such as "ca'n't", "wo'n't", ... As to "ca'n't", it will not be disputed that, in all other words ending in "n't", these letters are an abbreviation of "not"; and it is surely absurd to suppose that, in this solitary instance, "not" is represented by "'t"! In fact "can't" is the proper abbreviation for "can it", just as "is't" is for "is it". Again, in "wo'n't", the first apostrophe is needed, because the word "would" is here abridged into "wo".

    So - Carroll's "wo'n't" is apparently a contraction of "would not", which made me wonder how he distinguishes it from "woll not". I turned to Dr Johnson's dictionary, to find:
    Wo'n't. A contraction of "would not", used for "will not".

    It appears, then, that Dr Johnson mistakenly deemed "won't" a contraction for "would not", rather than "woll not", but used in the sense of "will not". Curiouser and curiouser!
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    So - Carroll's "wo'n't" is apparently a contraction of "would not", which made me wonder how he distinguishes it from "woll not". I turned to Dr Johnson's dictionary, to find:
    Wo'n't. A contraction of "would not", used for "will not".

    It appears, then, that Dr Johnson mistakenly deemed "won't" a contraction for "would not", rather than "woll not", but used in the sense of "will not". Curiouser and curiouser!
    A look at the text of Sylvie and Bruno Concluded shows that Carroll did in fact use wo'n't where we would use won't; that is, he believed in the same erroneous etymology of this contraction as did Johnson.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    I can recall seeing "willn't" in (I think) a 19th century book but now can't find where I saw it. See Wiktionary

    If it is of interest, there's fo'c'sle or fo'c's'le for forecastle that is still acceptable.And in informal (quoted) speech, "wouldn't've" etc.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    I can recall seeing "willn't" in (I think) a 19th century book but now can't find where I saw it. See Wiktionary
    It's used in Shirley: A Tale, vol. 1, by Charlotte Brontë. From page 181 of the edition available as a free e-book via Google Books:
    Nay: I 've no grand words at my tongue's end, Mr. Moore, but I feel that it wad be a low principle for a reasonable man to starve to death like a dumb cratur': -- I willn't do 't.
     
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