Apostrophes in descriptive phrases
In Barbara Wallraff's syndicated column this week, the focus is on the apostrophe.
Someone wrote in asking why he sees "Veterans' Day" so often written as "Veteran's Day." Surely we're talking about a day for more than one veteran, no?
Veterans Day is a federal holiday, so the grammatically correct way to write it doesn't really matter. The U.S. government calls it "Veterans Day," with no apostrophe. Thus the apostrophe-free version is standard.She then uses this as a launching pad to rail against AP's stricture against the apostrophe in descriptive uses, such as citizens radio and teachers college.
Forgive me, AP, but I disagree. The possessive case in English -- words ending in an apostrophe plus "s" or "s" plus an apostrophe -- isn't used only when someone or something is literally in possession of something else. For the possessive case to be correct, the citizens don't have to own the radio band or the teachers own the college. (If you're inclined to argue with me, first ask yourself what's going on in a phrase like "a day's work" or "a week's pay.")I can't say I disagree. I've seen more copy editors wring their hands over this rule than most others. (And remember the debate about the Scholars Walk?)
The AP seems to know this: It admits that a term including a plural word that does not end in "s" needs an apostrophe plus "s" -- "a children's hospital," for instance. That's a hospital for children, just as the college is for teachers and the band of radio is for citizens to use. If the AP's logic about the use of the plural word in a descriptive sense held up, we'd say "a children hospital."