While collecting examples of "initial material deletion" ("Must have a word with my publisher", Ruth Wajnryb, Expletive Deleted, p. 236), I came across one close by a possessive with gerund (using traditional terminology, as in Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage) which clashed stylistically with the conversational style of "Turns out, that all-American nightmare is mostly myth." Right there in a New York Times editorial ("Using Farmers as Bait", 7/16/05, p. A26). Probably a case of the writer's aiming for a conversational, but serious, tone (with the subject omitted in "turns out") running up against editorial policy (proscribing accusative with gerund, even where the possessive alternative seems fussy and overformal).
Here's the passage:
Anti-tax forces like to conjure up a field of dreams' turning into condos -- a young family inherits its birthright and then has to sell it to pay the taxes.
Turns out, that all-American nightmare is mostly myth.
In my collection of VPs with omitted subjects (50 so far; I'm not doing a particularly systematic search), there are three instances of "turns out", and two of these are from newspapers. Like the article omission in the following examples, "turns out" is probably used this way to lend a somewhat conversational, though still serious, tone to newspaper writing.
Except that's not true. Truth is, there's no way to tell which program is better. (Michael Winerip, On Education column "When Data Don't Mean That One Way Is Better", NYT 7/16/03, p. A15)
One of the visits included a fundraiser that bought Mr. Thune's campaign more than $300,000 in contributions. Word is, the president will be back at least once more before the election. (John Nichols, "Get That Pollster Off My Lawn", NYT Week in Review, 10/27/02, p. 13)
Most Americans -- two-thirds, accordng to a Pew Research poll this month -- believe that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Trouble is, no hard evidence of such a link has been made public. (NYT editorial "The Illusory Prague Connection", 10/23/02, p. A26)
The possessive with gerund that comes a bit before "turns out" is, however, distinctly formal, at least to my eye. In this case, you can tell it's possessive only by the punctuation, with an apostrophe, but presumably the Times would have insisted on an audibly possessive singular, say:
Anti-tax forces like to conjure up a dream's turning into condos -- a young family inherits its birthright and then has to sell it to pay the taxes.
Despite (or perhaps because of) frequent advice that nominal gerunds must have their subjects expressed by a possessive (not accusative, or uninflected) NP, a non-pronominal (things are different for pronouns) possessive in an object (things are different for subjects) strikes many modern speakers as very formal, even unnatural. Recall the fictional judge objecting to splitting in court, in one of the Rumpole stories; he used an accusative in a gerund object, even for a pronoun,
Do we have to add to the disagreeable nature of the proceedings the sound of you tormenting the English language?
over a possessive,
Do we have to add to the disagreeable nature of the proceedings the sound of your tormenting the English language?
presumably because John Mortimer thought the accusative sounded more natural.
So where did the possessive come from in the Times editorial? Probably from a copy editors' policy requiring the possessive with gerunds. But I'll bet they're not consistent in applying this policy; it's very hard to consistently enforce rules that sometimes go against the feelings of native speakers.
zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period eduPosted by Arnold Zwicky at July 16, 2005 02:50 PM