Weird Victorian mechanics: Ca’n’t, wo’n’t, and more

Yes, I’m speaking of the mechanics of punctuation.

In reading Alice in Space: The Sideways Victorian World of Lewis Carroll (Beer, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2016), I’ve been sidetracked by the appearance of apostrophes where I’m unused to finding them. I’ve put them right up there in the title; that’s how distracting they are. They deserve greater notice.

And explanation.

But in my research into this oddity—and to be sure, it is an oddity, even for Carroll’s contemporaries—I’ve found an amazing blog post from 2007 by Gabe Doyle, then a doctoral candidate at Stanford, to which I link below. There’s little point in my regurgitation of its contents when it’s perfectly simple to link to it, and let you all read at your leisure (or ignore it entirely, if you choose).

Also note that although he makes no mention of “ca’n’t” in his post, it appears in Carroll’s works and thus in the text I’m reading currently. This curious use of apostrophes is apparently related to the logic of using one where a letter is omitted, rather than letting it stand in for more than one as we do with “can’t.” That, at least, is the short form of the explanation. And such logic is logical, coming from a mathematician like Dodgson/Carroll.

And what’s up with “won’t,” anyway? Where’s the O come from, if it’s short for “will not?”

Find the answer to that and much more at the link below.

Will you, wo’n’t you, will you, wo’n’t you, will you click the link? (with apologies to the Mock Turtle)