Thursday, October 20, 2005

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?

Barbara responds:
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.")

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."

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?)

4 Comments:

At 5:36 PM, October 20, 2005, Blogger Sherry said...

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 because "children" is already plural. "Childrens" makes no sense.

I don't care if it's Veterans Day or Veterans' Day, though the code's inconsistencies confuse me. For example the first Sunday after Labor Day is Grandparents Day, yet the second Sunday in May is Mother's Day.

 
At 10:12 PM, October 20, 2005, Blogger Etaoin Shrdlu said...

It's become a topic of much discussion over at the Testy Copy Editors:

http://www.testycopyeditors.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=5543&view=previous

 
At 10:14 PM, October 20, 2005, Blogger Etaoin Shrdlu said...

Oy. I can't the the link or the URL to work. Go to www.testycopyeditors.org, click on General Discussion and look for the topic poll.

Nicole, perhaps you could do the link?

 
At 10:40 PM, October 20, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

Here's a direct link for those who don't like to copy and paste.

And thanks for the link. I've been derelict in my TCE reading. That's a fantastic thread.

 

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