Monday, January 29th, 2018...8:53 pmnguyetra

“Apostrophe” in Music: why talking to your laptop matters

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An apostrophe is a rhetorical technique that is used with such a high frequency in lyrics writing…

Wait, what?
Isn’t apostrophe a punctuation mark?
You are probably wondering about the relationship between a punctuation mark and a song’s lyrics. Who uses this “;” in a song anyway?
Let me tell you this. Apostrophe is what you hear and use daily without even recognizing. You might as well be speaking something apostrophic or listening to an apostrophic song on your phone right now.
This is the part when I clear up the confusion and tell you what apostrophe actually means in this context. So here it goes:

apostrophe (n): a rhetorical figure in which the speaker addresses a dead or absent person, or an abstraction or inanimate object.

Remember that computer rage when you yelled “Shoot, why aren’t you even loading?” at an empty screen or when you had that perfect, lukewarm coffee and rambled on for half an hour just to show your endless affections to Starbucks?
Well, that is definitely your apostrophic soul talking.

A perfect example of an apostrophe would be Jonathan Coulton’s lovely piece:

“Here you are at last
To bring my cold lonely soul sweet release
From my weary past
Always searching, the one missing piece was you…

This verse paints the image of a love-struck man whose past is filled with melancholy and sorrow. On a tedious and seemingly endless journey, he searches for a shelter to harbor his lonesome soul and longs for a home where he can truly be at rest. The man rejoices at finding his other half, a “missing piece” that will fulfill his heart and free him from bygone burdens. The lyrics illustrate a sheer contrast between the character’s past and present, transitioning from the initial state when all he could feel was “cold and lonely” to a liberating and overwhelming happiness since love comes to his life.

The song will be just another ordinary and monotonous love confession without the use of an apostrophe. Luckily, Jonathan does not stop there. The song continues with these hilarious lines:

“…And I beg you, come away with me
And together we will find a place to call our own
I can’t wait to see what I can do
With a laptop like you.”

A laptop like you by Jonathan Coulton.

After all those lip-to-ear rhymes, sweet nothings, and “Let’s-run-away-together-to-a-distant-land” promises, it is quite astonishing for the listener to realize that the character is indeed talking to a laptop. In this amusing song, an apostrophe is used to generate an element of surprise. By conversing with a laptop as if he is whispering honeyed words to an ideal lover, the writer has succeeded in throwing the listeners for a loop and thus, making his song memorable.

Understanding the technique of apostrophe brings a new and more profound perspective to the song “A laptop like you.” With such a lens in mind, the listener can apprehend how Jonathan Coulton employs different layers of meanings to add humor and wit into his lyrics. On a broader note, an apostrophe is a literary device that is widely applied in the arts to express emotions delicately. By addressing a third party who is not present or an inanimate object which is unable to feel or convey sentiments, a character is indeed demonstrating his or her emotional state.

Lyrics cited: A laptop like you.


  •   Professor Seiler
    February 5th, 2018 at 8:59 pm

    Trang, what an engaging post and fantastic example! Your choice of this song is so effective, in part because the artist so clearly “gets” how accustomed we all are to the apostrophic mode in love songs.

    Are you a big Jonathan Coulton fan?

  • I’ve always heard apostrophe used in reference to the first part of the definition, discussing someone who has died. I think to focus on the inanimate object definitely brought more of a challenge, and, I think similarly to my own approach with lament, made it difficult to find something that doesn’t evoke a sense of a more painful longing.
    This comedic approach to apostrophe is really unique, and I think helps to exemplify the term more specifically. I imagine that there are more songs out there addressing people, like Ed Sheeran’s Supermarket Flowers where he talks to his recently deceased grandmother, mostly because it seems like maybe more of a common of a topic. But in actuality I find myself talking to inanimate objects fairly regularly, most commonly to say “hurry up,” because a program is running slow, or a crossing light isn’t changing. This type of apostrophe is surprisingly more common in casual language, so I like that you worked to find that in more poetic lyrics.

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