Is that your endorphone ringing? – Wood on Words

Is that your endorphone ringing? – Wood on Words – Column

Alden S. Wood

Is that your endorphone ringing?

Possessive forms can perplex all of us from time to time, as The Wall Street Journal reminded it’s page-one readers on October 10: “Crimson-faced over punctuation? A lavatory at the Harvard Club of Boston is labeled |Mens’ Room.'”

Possessive plurals can be extra daunting, witness this newspaper head: “Bushes’s drinking water being checked for disease clue.” Bushes is the right nominative plural. To make it possessive we need only the apostrophe: Bushes’. The WSJ citation wants for men’s.

Why the difference? The possessive form of proper names is made by adding an apostrophe + s to the singular, and an apostrophe alone to a plural: Barbara Bush’s husband, the Bushes’ residence. With common nouns, make the plural form possessive by adding ‘s: women’s, children’s … unless the plural noun ends in s. Then, add a solo apostrophe: sisters’, horses’.

Ancient classical names that end in s traditionally take only an apostrophe to signal possession: Socrates’ teaching, Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata.” Pay particular attention to Achilles when you’re writing about tendons and heels. Boston Globe feature writer Larry Tye erred when he told of “the searing soreness (that) moved to my Achille’s tendon.” Do not invade the name: Make it Achilles’ for the possessive – Achilles’ heel, Achilles’ tendon. (And why we spell tendonitis tendinitis I will not bring up.)

The most outlandish plural form I’ve seen in years appeared in a booklet that explained how bequests should be made to a certain library: “Be sure to include all of the deceased members full names for whom’s memory the Memorial or Gift is given.” The possessive of who is whose. Here we need in whose memory. Actually, to make this street-legal we need a massive rewrite. What a perfectly hideous sentence! (My friend Mary Louise Gilman sent it to me. Thanks, M.L. … I think.)

[N.B. – Before I forget, I confess here to deliberate misuse of it’s in my lead sentence. That’s a sophomoric ploy that I hope you will forgive, but … did you recall that personal pronouns in the possessive case – e.g., ours, whose, theirs, hers, yours, and especially its – take no apostrophe? Of course you did … I knew that.]

But I want to observe that I regularly see “The horse broke it’s leg during the jump” and “He couldn’t recall who’s car was for sale.”

* A news story says, “Stanford University led the way (toward diversity and multiculturalism) in 1988, by proposing more non-Western texts in the required freshmen reading lists.” Interesting word choice, freshmen. Why the plural form? Would the writer refer to juniors or seniors reading lists? Sophomores? Webster’s New World Dictionary displays just what we need: “freshman… – adj. of or for first-year students [the freshman English course]”.

* An IABC correspondent (name omitted) sent along a Washington Post clip with this graf red-lined: “Several experts said that the new test will be relatively quick, cheap and easy to perform compared to current techniques. |This will be much easier, faster and less costly,’ said Patricia N. Howard-Peebles (an expert)….”

As our compeer grumps, “How many ways can we say this?”

* What follows is my candidate for the All-Industry flat-line drop-dead-boring story lead of 1991, which isn’t over, I know, but … well, what do you think? –

“Results of the Mystery Shopper Spring wave are in. And those results show (bank) has continued to improve the level of quality service delivered to the customers.”

Can you handle all that excitement? Wow! Bland … people-less … flaccid … passive … drowsy … zzzzz. Results? What results? If the Spring wave drove deposits up 38 percent, why not say so? Is that a record? Shout it from the counter tops. Whatever happened happened thanks to human efforts. Celebrate those!

* Paul Martin, who among other duties edits style & substance, an advisory bulletin on usage for writers at The Wall Street Journal, includes this item in a recent issue:

“Microwavable is being shoved into the language by the makers of a host of products that may be heated in microwave ovens. It is probably a necessary evil in some instances, but we can often offer a bit of resistance by just saying microwave popcorn, for example, instead of microwavable popcorn.

“Incidentally, don’t use microwave alone as a synonym for microwave oven. We equate that with the use of a television for a television set, which we still resist, against all odds. We have barely begun to feel comfortable with a radio.”

* I don’t want to stroll away from MCMXCI without what I would like to think is a farewell wave to oto-orthography, a.k.a. spelling by ear, pandemic around the word loop. Typifying the crime is this cite from a Sunday magazine article: “The energized sensation called runner’s high is caused by the body’s own narcotics, known as endorphones.”

Here the writer confuses a cellular, or outdoor, telephone with the traditional, or endoor, model. The correct name for the painkilling peptides is endorphins. Resolve to do the right thing in 1992.

If you build it right, they will come.

Alden Wood, lecturer on editorial procedures at Simmons College, Boston, Mass., writes and lectures on language usage. He is a retired insurance industry vice president of advertising and public relations.

COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group