Monday, November 05, 2018

Cleveland Point

At the airport I had felt her body trembling in my arms and I had wanted to say, Forgive me, but I said, I love you, and maybe it's the same thing.

And here by the muddy shore at the Point, they are happy, two sisters together, ribbing each other, intimate. And I don't feel completely like a stranger and how like my kids to not hate me when they should hate me.

I am trying not to think about anything except my girls.


I have three and I saw Miggins. She was shy and engaging. She was delicious but she kept away from me. I have been a small face on a phone for so long, I don't know what she thinks of the worn-down old man who presented himself.

And I know you cannot force people to love you. Not if it's you who you want them to love and not some charade of loveability.


And you look so much like you did when first we met. My heart, if that's what it is, cries out. I do not think about the pain you've caused me. I do not think about betrayal or hurt. I think about how easy you were to love.

What chaos is there in me to allow me still to love you when you have done everything you can to inspire hatred? Is it you who can tap into the seam of gold that lies inside me and create wishes that can never come true.


Once we too were at Cleveland Point, and this was before you made us unhappy. It was the last time we were comfortable together -- I mean, we were comfortable enough other times but this was before you overlaid everything with anger.

But look, I'm not fool enough to think I couldn't instil some of that anger at least, and I can't help but wish we could go there again. You are beautiful and I hope you are happy.

Friday, June 22, 2018


Love, love is a verb 

 What we never did is tell the truth, never sat and told each other the truth. What we never did is face what we did to each other, what you did to me.

What I'm trying to say, what I'm trying to feel, I don't know, because we never sat together and told me the truth.

We never told the truth.

Love is a doing word

We first met and I wasn't sure but when we talked I was sure enough and then we met again and I knew

But do you know how bad it feels to have everything wrong? I never believed you were the cliche. Of all the women, of all the things you could be, how could you be that?

And me? I am nothing at all.

Let me tell you.

Fearless on my breath

When I was small, I was polite. I learned to be polite because that was something I could be. When I was just slightly bigger, I was smart. I learned to be smart because that was something I could be.

Boys hurt me because I was tall. Because I was clever. Because I was me. Boys hurt me and to make girls laugh, I learned to make girls laugh.

And nothing could touch me. I hid inside a shell of nothing at all.

And I have always known, if you peel away the onion layers of what I seem to be, there will be nothing at all for you to see.

Just the same small child. Waiting for love.

Gentle impulsion

I don't know why I grew out of that to be someone who wanted to be strong. Who spent the energy of their life on faking strength. On being strong for girls. Who would eat it up until somehow or another they'd see that there was no strength there.

And none would feel they owed me anything for it. And maybe you don't. Maybe you don't.

I don't know. I never really thought it through.

It's like cotton candy. Endless threads of spun bitter and underneath not even a stick, not even a hint of anything.

And you're left saying, I didn't want to do this. But if you didn't, who did?

If you don't blame anyone else, who do you blame?

shakes and makes me lighter


Fearless on my breath

I read on your Facebook page. He's making someone else's life terrible. But I was kind. That was such a horrid thing to say. Only to make you to feel better. About the terrible thing you did. I am telling the truth. I was kind. I tried. All I did was lose a job. I was kind. I am telling the truth.

why don't you

Teardrop on the fire

But you must have meant it, why do I even want to change that, you've forgotten all about me anyway, why do I care about that

I read on your Facebook page. You don't lose sleep. About how you hurt me. 

You chose your future. I understand. It didn't mean anything to love me. I understand. You only wanted me for what I could give you. I understand. Why do I even want to change that?

Fearless on my breath

We never told the truth. I thought you were better. 

I have a need to be something when I am nothing at all and what I need

You know, you talk about how you have a condition and we are telling the truth you don't.

You know, you talk about how you should be given leeway because you are made that way but if you should why don't you

We never told the truth.

I have a condition. I cannot abide the world falling apart and it fell apart and I needed you to make that love real and you only cared that I couldn't pay your rent.

We are telling the truth.

Night, night of matter

It fell apart and I wasn't anyone any more and I know you had your own shit but I had no more left to give.

And sometimes when someone has nothing you can't just go fuck you I'm gone. You can't, it isn't right, you have to try.

Surely you have to try or what does it mean to tell our child you love it, nothing, what does it mean to tell anyone anything, nothing.


Black flowers blossom

I read on your Facebook page. You told the world you were pleased you broke me. You are pleased you hurt me. You are pleased I have nothing left. You are pleased I want to die when I wake up and when I sleep I want to end because I lost the love of my life and you lost nothing at all.

I read on your Facebook page you lost nothing at all and we are telling the truth aren't we telling the truth we are telling the truth that I am nothing at all and I cannot stop believing you I cannot start being someone again.

And I want to know what therapist what women's group what dream you dreamt told you that was okay

Fearless on my breath

I tried. I will never curse you. I will never wish bad for you. I love you. I cannot help that I believe in you. Even though I know you will tell any lie to make yourself feel good. We're telling the truth. Let's not pretend you are anything but the lost daughter, the bad penny, the black sheep, the ugly truth. Let's not pretend you told the truth. 

If I am doomed to spin in pain, to hurt for all my days, I'll hurt. If I am doomed to be bereft, to yearn for my lost life, I will mourn. If I am having to live without the ones I love, I will try to survive. 


When I was a child, I knew I was cursed. To always want the truth like air. You told me you were the same.

You lied.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Get active

Among the elementary advice you'd give to someone who wished to learn to write well would be to use the active voice and not the passive.

The reason is that we process sentences "verb first". In the sixties there was a conflict between those who believed that we actually formulate sentences by building out from the verb and those who believed we use a more structured approach. Although the structured approach "won", there's good evidence that we work "verb first". Active sentences prove quicker to parse and anecdotally we know how hard passive sentences can be to work through.

It's actually quite hard to precisely define the passive in traditional ways. In the passive the subject experiences the action of the verb, rather than performs it.

He hits the boy.
The boy is hit by him.

You could consider it a "topicaliser" (we know that English loves to topicalise!). This is because English, like many languages, likes to put the most salient information in the sentence, after the verb, first. We call this "fronting" when we're discussing adverbs or adverbial phrases.

In fact, I'd argue the passive is an "ergativiser". I know, your head just exploded. I'll explain.

First of all, let's talk about two concepts: "marking" and "inflection/agglutination". Marking is simply a means languages use to show (usually) that words with related meanings have different functions. We generally consider that the words are stored in a sort of "dictionary form" and then marked for function. It's easy to see this by example.


The plural ending /s z/ is added to words to make them plural. It "marks" the plural.


The simple past ending /t d/ is added to weak verbs to make them past. It "marks" the past. (Before you go off, yes, this is also the marking for the past participle. For historical reasons, it's the same ending: originally the participle was prefixed (as it is in German) but the prefix was lost.)

Marking does go a little deeper than that.


Here we can see that it's a question of relation. "Marked" is marked from "mark", but "unmarked" is marked from "marked". It can also be considered marked from "mark" but it's generally easier to understand as a binary opposition because this is how marked forms are nearly always used, and how the concept was introduced.

Second, we can look at inflection (or agglutination in agglutinative languages -- same idea really but whereas in inflection you change parts of a word to show its function, in agglutination you add bits on).

For example:


Generally, in Latin we consider that the "stem" has "endings" and "amo" and "amat" are marked for first and third person present tense. This is actually a different type of "marking" to that we've already discussed, and consequently linguists often use a different word for it.

Let's compare "amo" with "amavi". The first means "I love" or "I am loving" and is the present tense. The second means "I loved" or "I have loved" and is the perfect tense.

So verbs can be inflected, or marked, for person and tense.

One of the more interesting things in languages is ergativity. In this, we say the following: subjects of intransitive verbs are marked the same way as objects of transitive verbs.


What's a transitive verb? Well, that's actually quite easy. It's one that is done to something or someone else. Contrast "take" with "breathe". You can't breathe somebody. And you can't just take. Breathe is intransitive (never has an "object"); take is transitive (has an object). Some verbs can be both: "eat" for instance.

Look at these two sentences:

I breathe.
I take him.

At a deep level, the verbs can be thought of as "action of breathing" and "action of taking". Subjects are seen as connected with actions. So in ergativity, these two sentences are seen as "there's an action of breathing and I undergo it" and "there's an action of taking caused by me and he undergoes it".

It's a bit different from how we conceive of it but it does make sense.

Now it just so happens that the distant ancestor of English, proto-Indo European was a "split ergative" language. In the past tenses, it was ergative. This means verbs were conceived differently when they were in past tenses.

So how do you "ergativise" a verb in English? Let's look again at an active vs a passive.

I kiss the boy.
The boy is kissed by me.

Usually, a grammarian type will tell you that the passive uses the "past participle" of the verb "kiss". It's actually really unfortunate that we use that terminology because if we were taught at school what "kissed" is, we'd understand a lot of English grammar much more readily. Remember what I said: it is a historical coincidence that the "past participle" and the "simple past" are the same word. They have converged with time.

So what is "kissed"? It is a "verbal adjective". It describes the "action of kissing" as a state rather than a process. There are two types of verbal adjective in English: the present and past participles. The present participle describes actions as continuing; the past participle describes them as complete. Here is somewhere that the technical terms are much more useful for the linguist. They ought to be called the "imperfect participle" and the "perfect participle" because in fact they have nothing at all to do with "tense". They are marked for "aspect".

You can perhaps see that when you look at "kissed" as "the action of kissing as one complete action" and "kissing" as "the action of kissing as a continuing action", you can understand how ergative languages can see verbs as describing actions that don't "belong" to anyone.

Incidentally, participles really are adjectives pure and simple. The passive is used exactly like a predicative adjective. Compare:

The boy is fat.
The boy is kissed.

Notice that the passive does not need an "agent" any more than "fat" does. You just are fat. No one needs to have made you that way. But you cannot say:

The boy is fat by me.

And you can say:

The boy is kissed by me.

This is fine of course. There are adjectives that can fill different slots in sentences by their nature. You can say:

He was made fat.

But not:

He was made kissed.

So verbal adjectives are not quite identical functionally to what you might call common adjectives. Which is okay. Just as we can have transitive and intransitive verbs, there can be different sets of adjectives and we can still consider them the same thing because functionally they do the same thing in many structures.

I think that it's probably best to think of "by me" as an "inflection". Usually, in linguistics, "The boy is kissed by me" is seen as derived from "I kissed the boy" but to be honest, I'm not sure about that. I think we may have been wrong to dismiss generative semantics entirely and English sentences might be better seen as verb first. After all, few enough sentences lack a verb! Seeing "was kissed" as a verb form loses the insight that "kissed" is an adjective. Usually, the passive is seen as a way that English makes a "patient" (someone the action of the verb happens to) a subject (grammatically the "possessor" of the action of the verb). And traditionally we've said that is accomplished by using a different verb form because that's how Latin did it (the passive is an inflected form of the verb in Latin).

But as so often, applying Latin grammar to English doesn't really work. We'd do better to first of all understand that participles are adjectives of the verb and that we form passives by making verbs de-active, not by making patients into subjects and changing verb form.

I know that last sentence is difficult. What is the difference between:

I kiss.
I am kissed.

In the first, the word "kiss" describes a process. It's dynamic.
In the second, the word "kissed" describes a state. It's static.

So to form the passive, we change the verb from a process to a state and then make whatever undergoes that state into the subject of the sentence by using the participle as a predicative adjective.

And if I'm giving the grammar lessons, I tell my students to use verbs to do the work of sentences and avoid adjectives. Sentences with the passive voice feel static because they describe states. The verb "to be" is generally stative and rarely used to describe a process.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Action some verbiage chaps

So there's nothing I enjoy more than tackling pedants because English is a living, vibrant language and most of its speakers write it much more fluently than the pedants would have them believe.

Today, I saw a common complaint about using "action" as a verb. Well, I'm here to tell you that's fine and here's why, and it's not even a new thing in English.

First, English is jampacked with words that can be either nouns or verbs. I'll list a few.

Look, view, debate, list, act, murder, kill, light, fire, bolt, flick, fling, love, like.

There are many more. There are even words that are also adjectives:

You wrong me, sir.
You have done me many wrongs.
You are wrong about that.

Verb, noun, adjective, and in spoken language, adverb (You did it wrong).

So there's no problem with words having two purposes. We have been doing that for centuries. Of course, there are other ways to make nouns from verbs ("nominalisation"), such as using the gerund as a common noun ("meeting", "running", "footing"), adding an ending ("hatred", "flight"), changing the ending ("belief"), or even both ("action" itself) and of course sometimes these processes had already happened in Latin or French before we borrowed the words (many of our nouns are from the accusative of Latin nouns that were derived from verbs).

But "action" is a formation the other way. This process ("verbalisation") also happens in languages, although it's somewhat less common (and there's an interesting thesis, I think, in why it seems verbs are more "primal" than nouns, at least in Indo-European languages). In English, the ending "-ise" is commonly used to verbalise nouns. Consequently, we have "realise", "theorise", "incentivise". And interestingly, "incentivise" was frowned upon early in the last century as a neologism.

So it's actually an interesting process, adding "action" to the first group "the wrong way round". There are words that already went through the process, although you may not recognise that they did, for instance "function", "machine", "fund". Wait, what's this? It does seem as though we've been using nouns as verbs for a long time in English! "Function" as a verb is thought to be from the 1840s, for instance, and "fund" as a verb is so well established that we use its gerund, "funding", as another common noun.

We also do that with the rather less common "functioning", which means something slightly different from "function". And that's important. English has adopted a noun from French, then verbalised it, and then nominalised again, to create shades of meaning that are impossible in many languages. And most speakers of English can use all of these without any problem.

When you action a proposal, there is no straight translation. It means "act upon" or "put into action". It's a brilliantly concise word. In a hundred years, no one will think twice about using it, any than they think twice about "exchange" (formed as a noun and then verbalised, just like "action") or even "hump" (yes, a verbalised noun).

Friday, May 04, 2018

A short note on too

Perhaps you were taught in school that you should comma off the adverb "too"? So for you a sentence such as this is correct:

I, too, will go there.

Or even this:

I will go there, too.

Both are strictly incorrect but this is a solecism so often taught to children that many people don't understand why it is. Here's the reason.

"Too" is an adverb almost exactly alike in function to "later". You can often -- if not always -- replace "later" with "too" in a sentence and your new sentence will make sense. (The reverse is not quite true: the structure "I x verb object" doesn't admit "later". You can't write "I later will write to you" for instance.)

I'll see him later.
I'll see him too.

Give it to me later.
Give it to me too.

Now, you'd never comma off "later" in those sentences. So don't comma off "too", which is functionally the same. Believe it or not, when words have the same function, they are punctuated the same way in a sentence.

So we're clear that "Give it to me, too" is incorrect (and btw you don't need a comma for "Don't tell him either" or "they went there also" -- you simply do not comma off an adverb in its default "unmarked" position in a sentence). But what about "I too will tell him"?

Well, not all that many adverbs can actually come between a subject and verb but try these sentences:

I very much like her.
I absolutely don't like her.
I sometimes go there.

You can see how ridiculous it would be to comma those adverbs off? And "too" is functionally exactly the same as "very much", "absolutely" or "sometimes".

Monday, April 23, 2018

Fairy tales

Sometimes I feel as though I will drown in this trench of melancholy. I feel as though nothing is substantial enough to believe. Because I believed in her and I didn't believe this was anything like the person she is.

I feel the sharp pain of loss. Not of the cruel, hurtful person who makes me look at my child on a phone screen. That's not the woman I loved. Not of the person either who tells her friends she is glad I am ruining anyone else's life.

I didn't ruin anyone's life. I lost my job and I fell ill. I didn't choose either and I know I didn't do well with either but I have done what I can to come out of the other side. I have shaken that box up and down.

I am the same person who still thinks over what happened with Mrs Zen, who castigates himself for the ill I did her, the person who is critical of himself that he couldn't carry B throughout her life -- a woman who gave me nothing, didn't even try, whose only commerce was tears and rage. But I still blame myself for not being good enough. If anyone would know, I'd know. And I shake the box and it's not there.

But not of that person because I won't believe she is that person. I feel like that's her shell, I get it, and there's nothing to be angry about, except that she doesn't want me to love Miggins, doesn't feel it's worth anything -- and even if it isn't, it still hurts -- and I loved her daughters and that might mean nothing at all to her but it means something to me.

And you have to be able to feel like what means something to you is worth something, whatever other people think. And not being able to even say hello to them hurts me.


I do shake the box. I think, well, I know I could not give enough. And I do know that the pressure, the pain she suffered was too much for her to bear, and that hurt for her to recognise, because she depends on herself to be strong. And I know I'm selfish and felt like I too was crushed.

I did not sleep for nearly a year until I had figured out how to sleep. I am not exaggerating. I literally did not sleep. Even now some days I feel broken, as though I cannot function.

Some days I feel broken regardless but that is because of the void that she left. I feel empty because I am the person she just shrugged off. I don't know how you can do that. And I always did shrug people off but I never closed the door. I have never really been unkind enough to do that.

I was kind to her too. Did you know that? I've seen how people are and I can't help but wonder how you can feel a person who was trying and wasn't very good at it deserves to be whipped.

And I do get that "deserves" is the word here. That people don't consider you transactionally. They do what they do sometimes to protect themselves. They do it for themselves. And ultimately of course we all do things for ourselves first of all, and only then for others. I no more expect others to be martyrs than I do myself.


I do wish she would talk to me. I don't really understand why she decided not to. There's nothing that happened. Just one day we were talking and it wasn't so bad -- as I said, I was kind, and she was kind enough too -- and the next she just was like fuck no. And that makes me sad, that I went from the person she loved to a person not even worth a few words.

It makes me sad because I feel like we did have something special. And I think we both know that she became unable to maintain that and maybe she felt guilty, maybe she felt I was punishing her for that. I didn't feel I was but I can see that maybe you could feel that way. People feel what they feel after all. They're not in your head.

But I didn't feel any of that was irretrievable. I would say, it's okay because I know you can recover who you are. And maybe she didn't feel I could. Maybe I can't.

I know this rambling isn't fun to read. I know you re not supposed to share the swirling waters that swill around your heart with anyone. I do know it upset her when I talked about her -- although surely not when I said how wonderful a person I thought she was, how beautiful I found her.

But this is what you do when the person you do find beautiful will not let you love them. They have a right not to -- I don't deny that -- she has every right not to let me speak to her, and even if you might think that's wrong because we share a child, I'm not a judge, I don't apply that standard really. But you still want to speak. I still want to tell her I love her. I still want the chance to woo her. I still do want to be someone she would want to be wooed by. And I do think, perhaps he disappeared, but perhaps he didn't.

And perhaps she did too. I know. Perhaps the woman I loved really did twist into someone who thinks it's okay to make my child a tiny figure in a telephone. Perhaps it's not just misunderstanding and miscommunication. Perhaps it isn't. But why should I choose to believe that? Why would I want to believe the beautiful soul I saw beneath the whatever you call it, the persona, has stopped existing? Why would I want my love story to end with a wicked witch? I don't. I want it to end as it began, with love that was worth everything.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

In defence of would of

A pet peeve of mine is those people who enjoy snobbishly correcting other people's English on the interwebnet. Which might surprise you, since I have made an astonishingly poor living out of correcting English. But then, I have also taken a shit once every day and that doesn't mean I'm keen on doing it in the high street.

I want to talk to you about could of, would of, should of, which people spend far too much time getting all snobby about. Not only do those people make an ugly spectacle of themselves, but they are wrong. Yes, really.

Three things back my play here: how we learn English, the variety and mutability of Englishes and why pedants are wrong about how language obeys "logic".

Babies learn how to speak and they're very good at it. Something that we often forget is that brains are much smarter than people. Weird thing to say but trust me, it does make sense. Whatever difficulties we seem to have with processing things in our world, our brains deal with extremely complex and large amounts of data. Perhaps not always perfectly but quickly and quite efficiently.

So babies are able to sift through sounds in the world around them to pick out, analyse and categorise ones that form language. They are able to internalise huge bodies of rules, which are in most languages complex and difficult enough that learning them for adults can be trying, and they're able to exclude sounds that don't fit on account of not being part of language at all or of belonging to another language.

But what's important to remember here is that they store language as a system of sounds. Babies do not learn to write. Our formal education in literacy largely consists of marrying sound to written symbol. And it's interesting that babies can learn to speak so well but children can learn to write so badly.

I can hear our pedant object. But people don't speak so well! How can you say such a thing? Some of those people speak common. Well, here's the first place they are wrong. You need to ask yourself what a baby is trying to do. It's not trying to learn to speak English. It has no idea what English is. It does not aim for a platonic ideal of a language. It is trying to learn to be comprehensible to the beings it finds itself among. It is not even trying to understand them. Babies are pretty much autistic; they have no interest in what you want or what you're trying to say. They are interested in getting what they want, and language is a good way to help them get it.

Babies are very good at learning an idiolect that can (eventually) be understood by other nearby speakers. (An idiolect is your own peculiar way of speaking your language. We all have a different idiolect. It's our most natural way of speaking. You can have more than one, of course, because you have a separate idiolect for each dialect you speak -- but this is verging on a technical morass because these are only terms of art for what we have: people speaking utterances that they hope other people will understand.)

Part of how they do it so well is they form rules that they can generalise across different utterances (I'm going to continue to use this word from linguistics to distinguish spoken sentences from written ones). And anyone who has a child knows they overgeneralise. Which can be very cute. Who doesn't love it when a child says Mummy drived the car or Daddy goed to work? All the child has done is apply the rule "form the simple past by adding /t d/ to the verb stem" too broadly. (Yes, I know the rule is a bit more complex but that's not the point.)

Children's brains are searching for patterns in the sounds they hear. They are looking for rules that apply systematically. This is because language is "generative". This quality means you can create novel utterances from the "dictionary" you've acquired. And you can do it from whatever materials you have. Children are very creative with language. As soon as they have acquired even a few words they try to express themselves with those words. The rules help them do that by providing structures to hang the words on.

Now note that the rule we have mentioned involved adding a phoneme to the end of a word. (A phoneme is a distinctive sound in English -- in fact, the "rule" is something like "add the phoneme /d/ to the end of the lexeme while observing phonotactic rules". And the marker for the past tense can be /d/ or /t/ without changing meaning -- there are phonological rules for which one to use.) Park that while we take a trip into history.

Old English -- Anglisc -- was a synthetic, inflecting language. Synthetic is a pole on a spectrum; the other is analytic, and the spectrum is a description of how much meaning there is in each "word". So an analytic language such as Chinese has monosyllabic words that have one meaning each (you create more meaning by positioning the words) and a (poly)synthetic language such as Navajo has multisyllabic words that contain a lot of meaning (they can be as long and meaningful as an English sentence yet are structurally one word). Inflecting means that changes in meaning or relationship between words in a sentence can be shown by changing parts of the word, usually the ending, without adding more elements (contrasting with agglutinative languages, which tend to add new syllables for more complex words, in which syllables are fixed -- Turkish can use five or six syllables where Latin would use one or two).

Anglisc used cases to show relations between words in a sentence and inflected verbs to show differences in tense, aspect and number. Anyone who's learned Latin will be familiar with the concepts of case and inflection. Over time, however, Anglisc evolved to become more analytic. Relations between words became more often shown by prepositions or word order, and verbs became much less inflected. But the new analytic English was littered with fossils from its synthetic past. For example, we have a fossil of Anglisc genitive case in possessives. Where Anglisc had "dog" and "dogges", we have "dog" and "dog's".

In fact, the possessive is the only case remaining for English nouns. Importantly, it cannot be seen as inflectional. The rule is simply to add the phoneme /s z/ to the end of words (with some jiggery pokery and exceptions of course).

Now imagine you are a baby presented with a jumble of sounds. You are able to categorise, say, "dog" and "dog's" and you systematise the difference between them and other words used in similar contexts as a rule to add a phoneme. In other contexts, other words seem to add other phonemes. This seems to be what English does.

Interestingly, it really is what spoken English does. The baby is presented with (forgive my "phonetic" spelling): /ai/ /yu/ /hi/ /wi/ /yu/ /the/ and /aiv/ /yuv/ hiz/ wiv/ /yuv/ /thev/. The baby's already systematised that /hi/ /shi/ /it/ are exceptions, so there's no problem with simply assuming "add v" is the rule for these words to express something. But what?

Well, "I've done" is the perfect. This is how we express an action that is completed (perfected) from the point of view of the present time. You use the auxiliary "to have" and the past participle.

In most varieties of spoken English, the auxiliary "to have" is expressed by the phonemes /v/ and /z/. In fact, /v/ and /hav/ are not interchangeable in most varieties -- they have strictly delineated contexts. They are to most intents and purposes different words. "I've done it" and "I have done it" do not actually mean the same thing for most of us. In some ideal version of English, "I've" is "short" for "I have" but babies do not learn that. They learn /aiv dun/ is the perfect of the verb /du/.

Importantly, in most dialects, the phoneme /v/ cannot be used for /hav/ in every context. Some dialects do allow /aiv thri/ for "I have three" but curiously they do not allow /hiis thri/ to mean "he has three". Generally, /v/ is not used for /hav/ though, and in spoken English, it's easy to schematise it as a postfix that allows formation of some tenses and/or aspects.

Spoken English does not have spelling. Not only do children not store the words they learn as spelled versions, the spoken language cannot be understood as identical as the written language. I'm not going to go into great detail about how this can be known: I'll simply appeal to your own intuition and the fact you cannot spell every word you can say (don't lie, you can't).

Given this, it's not clear that there's a "proper" way to spell /wudv/. By convention we make out it's a contraction of "would have" but children do not learn "would" and "have" and "would have" and "would've" as connected in any vital way. I'm just asserting this btw; I don't propose to provide evidence for it.

We have talked about how children develop an idiolect that sufficiently corresponds with what people around them speak that they can be understood. Then they go to school and if like me they come from an area with a slightly different dialect, or indeed they are from somewhere diglossic, they find out how they speak is "wrong". I think for English speakers it's fairly hard to understand that written standards are somewhat idealised versions of the languages they represent. If we look at Arabic, it becomes much clearer. Written standard Arabic does not bear much resemblance to vernaculars in Morocco or Iraq, and speaking it is a bit like declaiming Chaucer in Chaucerian English -- you need a special and distinct education to understand it. Chinese is worse! I've mentioned in other posts that Cantonese, for instance, is written in the same script as Mandarin, but they are very different languages -- perhaps as far apart as English and Italian as far as vocabulary goes.

And one thing we learn is that /wudv/ is represented in the written standard language as "would've". Which makes it look like something's missing. But of course it isn't.  I think that what is going on is clearer when you compare English with a Brythonic language, where there are different ways of rendering the present tense (roughly a personal and an impersonal way). There are informal and formal ways to render the past modals: /wudv/ and /wud hav/, /kudv/ and /kud hav/ and so on (I'm not ignoring the variety /wud@/ -- it's just not useful in this discussion, although it will rear its ugly head later). I will note that some people eschew contractions, preferring to represent everything, even in dialogue, in good written language. I respect that choice because it avoids making uncomfortable choices with dialectal variation. Nothing says that written English need be phonetic or that one cannot understand that a character uses a contraction even though it's not written.

All of this is a long path to saying that "would've" has shaky legitimacy. It renders a spoken construction that arguably does not represent a contraction at all. And now to our point. The phoneme /v/ serves in the spoken language as the preposition written "of". It's so commonly used that one should probably consider /ov/ to be a variation on it, not the other way round. It would be beyond pompous to say /bag ov tschipz/ for instance. And this word is uncontroversially represented by the written word "of".

I said we would mention again /wud@/ but actually let's look at the purposive /aim gon@/. Again, outside emphatic uses, it's very common for "going to" to be pronounced /gon@/. Writers have long affected to write this as "gonna". And to be honest, if someone wrote this in informal English, it'd be a brave pedant who objected. Furthermore, the cliche "shoulda woulda coulda" would be rendered ridiculous were it spelled "should've, would've, could've". Why? Because it doesn't look right.

A speaker of a language does not speak one language -- even if they are monolingual. They speak a range of lects that vary according to the person they are talking to and the context they are talking in. You don't speak "posh" to your mum. Most speakers of most languages actually can and do use an entirely different dialect at home than they do in the public sphere, although in English, dialects tend to be so close to standard English that you cannot fairly say that. Still, even though we may use the same variety of English in different settings, we use different vocabularies and different ways of expressing ourselves. These different sets of English are called register. I don't think anyone could argue that the "interview register" is different from the "spouse register", at least for most of us!

As an aside, the differences between register can be quite obvious but also quite subtle. For instance, if I was being interviewed, it's very unlikely I'd use vulgar language. I wouldn't say my last job was "shit" or my last boss was an "arsehole". But I would also likely say /wudv/ not /wud@/, which is what I'd normally use talking to a friend. These are examples that illustrate something we all understand: you use language appropriate to the setting. But what's not so obvious is that written English also has registers.

I don't know about you but I don't worry too much about how literate I am in a text message. And I might even use a lol here and there. (I hope that if S reads that she'll crack a smile.) Now I wouldn't say lol in a newspaper article. And I'd probably avoid difficult words and certain constructions in the newspaper too. I generally write with a fairly restricted vocabulary for various reasons but if I was writing something highly formal, I might deploy more impressive words (I might not though; I don't command a very impressive vocabulary at all).

I think even the worst pedant among us can happily agree that there are different written registers and that whereas you might write an email to a friend in a chatty tone, you'd use something more formal for business, for instance. You might not. You might write your business proposal in a lighter way if that was appropriate to the business. But you'd be aware that you were doing that.

So people writing posts on Facebook are not bound to stick to the register that would be appropriate to a book about astrophysics. Facebook would be even duller than it already is if they were. And those of you who enjoy writing that "Trump is a dick" would not be permitted to, since calling people dicks is on the whole inappropriate in textbooks. I think that a variety of what you might call "common", "vulgar" (in a more technical sense) or "vernacular" English would be most people's idea of what's appropriate. In this version, some things that I would not allow in formal English are common: objective "who" (should be "whom" but even I don't usually write that), unpossessed gerunds (Fowler would spin in his grave at you missing that), even existential or presentative singular "there's" for plural referents ("there's three good ideas about that" or "here's three things you need to know") and so on.

So here we have it.

I think "would of" is an understandable way to render /wudv/, particularly for people who are used to writing "SMS English", where apostrophes are often eschewed. (Wouldve looks weird, you know it.)

I think furthermore "would of" is a more natural way to render /wudv/ because there is no other context in which the phoneme /v/ is rendered "have" outside tense/aspect forms, and "'ve" cannot be used for "have" more generally, whereas /v/ is rendered "of" routinely.

I think we all agree that contextually "gonna" is the preferred rendering for /gon@/ and writing "going to" would not just be wrong but would be ridiculous.

I think that the settings in which people wish to disallow "would of" are not formal, so rules of formal language cannot be applied. In fact, the pedant is left in a bind, because you do not write out contractions in other cases, yet "would've", "could've" and, omg I'll shit, "hadn't've" are horrid.

I do not have enough lunchtime to discuss the truth that language does not sit still, that it changes, and its form depends on its use. Chaucer used the phoneme /n/ fairly liberally as a prefix to negate verbs. But you can't do that now. Eventually, everyone will write "would of" and it will be as though that was always how it was written.

English is not fully analytic. We don't add the meanings of "would" and "have" together. "Would have" has a synthetic meaning that is not like either of them. "Have" is definitely synthetic -- used across the Indo-European group without actually meaning anything in itself. And there's no good reason, really, for spelling it in the same way as the verb of possession.

So, pedants, you will be wrong for sure in maybe a hundred years. And mostly, you are wrong now. You are a sad lighthouse of formality in an informal world. I pity you, fighting as you do to force a tool of immense flexibility and expressiveness into dull regularity. Language is how we get others to understand us. We learn it because we want others to understand what we want, what we need, what we feel and in time to express that we understand what others want, need and feel. And you understand perfectly well what "I would of told you if I knew" means. So you are wrong, sorry.