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Thursday, March 15, 2007

How many esses in possessive?

I just had to ask my mom what she thought my Arkansan grandparents--both teachers, both known to be concerned with grammar--would have made of recent legislation in Arkansas to mandate the use of the apostrophe-s in possessive forms of the state's name. Here's her response:
I would think that the entire family would be on the side of "Arkansas's." There's no meaningful reason to use "Arkansas'." except a silly expediency, and the possessive form, even as troubled as it is, should not bow to that.

The NY Times has some fun with the story:
Although not every manual of style agrees with the resolution, which does not specify criminal sanctions for failure to comply, the silent second “s” in Arkansas demands an apostrophe and a third “s” to form the possessive, Mr. Westbrook insisted, lest precision count for nothing. (For the record, the style manual at The New York Times agrees with Mr. Westbrook.)

Had the State Legislature not decreed in 1881 that the name “Arkansas” would end with a silent ‘s,’ there would be no cause for concern, he said.

“This is not an apostrophe battle,” he added. “It’s a war to recognize the definition of the word ‘silent.’ ”

There was some silent rolling of eyes amid the ayes, but no legislator dared seriously challenge the research or the resolve of Mr. Westbrook.


Anonymous Anonymous on Fri Mar 16, 02:36:00 PM:
I had really never thought about this, I guess that's because I've never had to use the possessive with Arkansas. I love language battles, they are oh so entertaining! It reminds me of one similarly brilliant episode in the history of Spanish when Garcia Marquez of all people argue that there is no difference between lastima with an accent in the first syllable (pity) and without an accent which means (it hurts, me lastima)and that therefore the accent should be dropped. The main claim for this was that the accent was a "waste of time," talk about silly expediency, especially in a country where most people forget to accentuate their words anyway!