Please don’t think me a sore loser.
As you may have heard, the University of Minnesota has decided to name its
new 2,300-foot walkway “the Scholars Walk” rather than “the Scholars’
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 Children
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 signs).
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
I ask you, does it make sense for an educational institution to follow the
lead of the government in matters of punctuation and grammar? 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
But I wonder, if “Scholars Walk,” do they also run, trot, and canter?