Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 8 22:13:38 UTC 2011

Although I agree that this may be a "deep thought" question where a
teacher may be "forcing" students to come up with their own rigid rules,
I disagree, in principle, that divining teacher's intent is a good idea.
If the teacher was not specific enough to state the rule or the
expectations, the response should reflect that. With this in mind, I
propose two plausible solutions.

1) Brute force, "what's a typewriter?" rule:

Enter all words into a word processing document or a spreadsheet (the
latter might be easier for most people) and run a "sort" routine on the
entries. Print out the results and list the parameters with specificity
(type of program, specific command, etc.).

2) Use Google Translate to translate each word into a language that does
not differentiate based on capitalization or punctuation--preferably,
all words and phrases should translate into single words (Turkish is a
good language for that, but then you have to deal with Turkish
alphabetization, which is a different can of worms). Then sort the words
according to the alphabet of that language. Present the results and
specify the procedure.

If nothing else, this will guarantee that the teacher will never ask the
same question again.


On 11/8/2011 3:15 PM, Garson O'Toole wrote:
> The question "How would you alphabetize the words girls, girl's and
> girls'?" was asked at the Yahoo Answers website in 2006 though I would
> not place any confidence in the answer.
> This may be a question on a quiz that is shared between teachers. It
> might be a "stunt" question where the teacher does not expect a
> specific answer, and the goal is to teach about conflicting
> conventions and answer justification. Look at the other questions to
> gather contextual information.
> Here are some suggestions if the teacher does desire a specific
> answer. Try to determine the arbitrary convention that the teacher
> expects the students to follow.
> 1) The solution desired may have been specified in the textbook for
> the class. Ask the student if the topic was discussed in the textbook
> or examine it yourself. Of course, the class may not have a textbook.
> Class notes? Handouts?
> 2) Ask if the teacher discussed this topic in class. Did the student
> hear anything about alphabetizing during class? Did the student hear
> anything about special characters like apostrophes or hyphens?
> 3) If you cannot determine the convention that the teacher wants then
> select two or three. Explain each convention and then include an
> answer according to each convention. You and Arnold discussed a
> Microsoft/ASCII convention. Unfortunately the most common convention:
> "ignore the apostrophe" is ill-defined and yields ambiguity.

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list