Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Omit the S, Go to Jail

How did we miss this when it first came out? OK, and we know it's a civil issue, not a criminal one. But we have to have some fun with our headlines.

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.”

Indeed, a resolution passed Tuesday by the Senate requires that spelling in all official documents. The measure, written by Mr. Westbrook, was approved by the House last week. Gov. Mike Beebe is expected to sign it.

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.)

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.’ ”There was some silent rolling of eyes amid the ayes, but no legislator dared seriously challenge the research or the resolve of Mr. Westbrook. Since 1949, he has been an aide to a governor, two United States senators and two congressmen. They included Representative Boyd A. Tackett, whose grandson, State Representative Steven P. Harrelson, Democrat of Texarkana, sponsored the resolution.

“As much as anything it’s a tribute to Parker,” Mr. Harrelson said with a chuckle, citing Mr. Westbrook’s dedication to historic preservation.

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