Friday, July 16, 2004

confessions of a contrarian grammarian, continued

Ann takes up the question of whether states' rights should be spelled with an apostrophe.  She argues by analogy to "individual rights" and "gun rights" and "abortion rights", none of which have an apostrophe, that states' rights shouldn't have one either.  She concludes that those who put an apostrophe in are being hypercorrect, meaning that they apply a grammatical rule in an instance where it might seem to apply but actually doesn't belong, and so they effectively make a usage incorrect by correcting it.  I disagree.  The analogies Ann draws doesn't work, because they are all instances of de-possessiving a potential possessive by making it singular--if we would say "individuals' rights", there should be an apostrophe, but if we talk about the same thing by saying "individual right", we essentially imbue it with a higher degree of abstraction--I'm sure there must be a fancy name for it--such that it's no longer a possessive.  You write "human rights" but if you wanted to write "humans' rights", the possessive belongs.  To take two common examples, some people refer to "children's rights" and "prisoners' rights", both of which should have possessives, while other people nowadays refer to the same thing as "child rights" and "prisoner rights."  If my argument is correct, then Ann is being hyperhypercorrect, by making something incorrect by disapplication of a rule that seemed on first glance correct, then on further consideration incorrect, but then on still further consideration turns out to be correct. If my argument is wrong, then it is I who am being hyperhyperhypercorrect.

Here I am, a person with sociology credentials expressing his view on an issue of relevance for all kinds of human rights: does that make this post public sociology?

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