don’t think me a sore loser.
As you may have noticed, the University
of Minnesota decided to name its new 2,300-foot walkway "the
Scholars Walk" rather than "the Scholars’ Walk."
Am I sore that the planning committee
solicited my advice and then disregarded it? Of course not.
But what troubles me is that the
question apparently wasn’t decided on the basis of grammar.
Instead, there were vague arguments about how the scholars
didn’t actually own the walk; it was just being named for them.
Reasonable enough. But one could make the same case for "the
Apparently lacking was any discussion
of possession beyond our everyday understanding of it, as in
"That’s my book. It belongs to me."
As a grammatical construct, the
possessive case indicates not just ownership but also
relationship, and relationship is a broader concept, as
illustrated by the phrases "a good day’s work" and "one week’s
notice." Should we call it "a good day work" because it was we
who did the work, not the day, or "one week notice" because it
is we who must give notice, not the week? I think not.
I recognize that the trend is to omit
the apostrophe, but I believe the trend is part of a larger
movement toward less punctuation generally (particularly on
I also realize there is a tendency to
treat a phrase as descriptive rather than possessive as the
phrase becomes more common and idiomatic, as in "teachers
manual." But "Scholars’ Walk," unlike "Regents Professor," is
not a common phrase.
Perhaps a low point in the debate was
reached when the apostrophe-free Vietnam Veterans Memorial was
cited as a precedent for omitting the apostrophe.
I ask you, does it make sense for an
educational institution to follow the lead of the government in
matters of rigorous inquiry and precise communication? Shouldn’t
it be the other way around?
A case in point: Several years ago when
I renewed my driver’s license, I noticed that the phrase was
spelled "driver’s license" in one place on my renewal notice and
"drivers license" in another. When I went to the office to have
my picture taken, I saw a sign that read "driver license."
With that example in mind, perhaps we
should just throw in the towel and call it "Scholar Walk."
Likewise, we could have a women club. I wonder what the women
basketball team would think about that.
But as the board’s chief executive
officer, Larry Laukka, who also found himself on the losing side
of the argument, declared, "This was more fun than anything . .
. I’ll get over it," and so will I.
So let’s end the debate. Let’s set
aside all the talk about correct punctuation and the need for
educational institutions to uphold standards, and let’s be happy
with what we have: a beautiful walkway honoring the University’s
But I wonder, if "Scholars Walk," do
they also run, trot, and canter?