Mighty Red Pen

March 17, 2007

Arkansas’s apostrophe

Filed under: Grammar goddess — mighty red pen @ 3:59 pm

It seems MRP’s people are everywhere. Even in Arkansas.

There’s an 81-year-old man there who is raising a ruckus about whether the possessive form of Arkansas is Arkansas’ or Arkansas’s. Apparently, this is really important to him. And well it should be.

Lest you think serious news can’t have a serious sense of humor, check out these excerpts from the article about the issue that appeared in the New York Times.

To Be Possessive and Proud of It in Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK, Ark., March 14 — Bowing to a native son’s passion for proper punctuation and etymological exactitude, the General Assembly has put the English-speaking world on notice: the possessive case of “Arkansas” requires an “ ’s.”

As in, Arkansas’s many wonders.

Please, not Arkansas’.

“It’s esoteric, I agree,” said one of those wonders, Parker L. Westbrook, 81, a stickler for language and an authority on all things Arkansan, including its politics, “but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.”

 The Times goes on to explain:

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.)

What? No criminal sanctions for failure to comply? Pshaw.

In case you’re wondering, the real crux of the matter is this:

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.’ ”

My favorite part:

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

Mr. Westbrook, we salute you.

Thanks to K., for this tidbit.


1 Comment »

  1. Homer Simpson solved this problem years ago by simply (okay, not simply) saying, “Flanders’s’s’s’s’s’s driveway, Flanders’s’s’s’s house.”

    Back in school, we used to call the Arkansas River, the Our Kansas River. Someday we will war over this and Arkansas will have nothing left to possess.

    Comment by YouIt? — March 19, 2007 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

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