Standalone "n't"?
July 25, 2019 5:48 PM   Subscribe

In Désirée's Baby, an 1892 Kate Chopin story, isn't is written is n't (with a space). Same for hasn't (has n't). I've never seen this before. Is it deliberate or a typo? How is it pronounced?
posted by mpark to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Looking at the archive from its publication in 1893 (though I can only see the low-resolution teasers, not having a log in) it looks like this is a digitisation error in the PDF you've linked to, and it was published as 'isn't'.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:15 PM on July 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

This search using Google Ngram Viewer shows basically no usage of "is n't" and "has n't" in American English printed books dating back to 1800, so I'd tend to agree it's some sort of print error.

SORRY - I see the link isn't working but if you go to Ngram Viewer, select American English, then search these terms: isn't, is n't, hasn't, has n't -- you will see the result I mean.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:25 PM on July 25, 2019

What a great question! I think that might just be an antiquated way of writing the contraction. So is n't is isn't and has n't is hasn't.

I'm saying that in part because the endnotes of the book Larz and Isabel Anderson: Wealth and Celebrity in the Gilded Age include a note saying that "quotations from archival materials preserve antiquated or idiosyncratic spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, including n't as a stand-alone contraction for not (e.g., "I would n't")...".

1892 was part of the Gilded Age era, when apparently this was in use.

And here's a page from a California grammar book in 1896 which writes the contractions that way as well.

And here's a page from a 1900 serial where you can see this spelling again.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:28 PM on July 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

This search using Google Ngram Viewer shows basically no usage of "is n't" and "has n't" in American English printed books dating back to 1800, so I'd tend to agree it's some sort of print error.

I did a search in Google Books for "is n't" in quotation marks. There's plenty from right around the turn of the century.

We'd have to check a hard copy of these books to make sure these aren't all printing errors, but it seems unlikely coincidence given the consistency within the books of the usage.

And here's has n't in books from 1890 - 1910.

Here's one by Henry James.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:33 PM on July 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

The Google Ngram Viewer (which I didn't know about!) shows a peak use for has n't in American English in the 1890s and 1900s, but you have to do the search yourself.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:38 PM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wowee -- I totally stand corrected re: the Ngram. I use that tool all day long in my work (I'm a copy editor) but I was momentarily blinded to the fact that the mismatch in the amount of usage of isn't vs. is n't and hasn't vs. has n't would mean that the spellings we're looking for would be so far down on the bottom of the chart as to be almost invisible...yet they're there.

It does show, however, that while is n't and has n't were indeed in use, that use was dwarfed by the spelling we'd recognize today.

posted by BlahLaLa at 6:51 PM on July 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you look at the scan of the original book on Google Books the contractions are written that way in every story in the book. I think it's just the way they wrote it then and you pronounce it the same way as now.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:22 PM on July 25, 2019

And here's an old grammar book from 1910 that tells you to write n't contractions that way.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:26 PM on July 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

How is it pronounced?

Just a guess, I expect it is pronounced the same way as our contraction, since contractions by nature tend to glide together at normal conversation speeds (you don't hear the apostrophe, you also won't hear the space).
posted by epanalepsis at 6:18 AM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

It's pronounced idnt but very compressed, if that makes sense. It's almost more of a grunt than a word.
posted by orrnyereg at 9:59 AM on July 26, 2019

I read a lot of 19th century writing, and I come across "is n't" and "has n't" with relative frequency. It's always stuck out to me - "isn't" is just a further compression of "is not" by eliminating the space between words, with the apostrophe replacing the o.

I assume it's pronounced roughly the same way.
posted by Miko at 8:23 PM on July 26, 2019

« Older What is this logo?   |   How can my kid earn some money? Is this even... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments