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  Writing for Business and Pleasure
  Copyright 2005 by
Stephen Wilbers

First published May 16, 2005

 “Scholars (sic) Walk” so named

by Stephen Wilbers

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’ 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 Children Hospital.”


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 apostrophe.


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 University’s scholars.


But I wonder, if “Scholars Walk,” do they also run, trot, and canter?