April 15, 2004

Oop's I did it again

Mark asks why he can't say Geoff Nunberg's Peter Trudgill's headline.

More specifically, he notes that:
  1. The pattern (X's Y)'s Z is unproblematic - famous examples would be His Master's Voice and Her Majesty's Secret Service.
  2. Marcel Gagne's User's Guide for Linux is also ok. That would be X's (Y's Z).
So what's wrong with Geoff's Peter's headline, which we can imagine being parsed like Gagne's User's Guide?

I guess it's just the same thing that's wrong with the unparsable his a headline. The possessive likes to take an expression that picks out a property and can function as a common noun, or at least an N' ("N-bar", things like yellow banana). Unfortunately Peter Trudgill's headline doesn't cut it as an N or an N' (* a/the/every Peter Trudgill's headline), whereas user's guide is a fantastic noun (a/the/every user's guide, not to be confused with the equally acceptable a/the/every users' guide.)

So it all seems very simple, modulo the fact that lots of people can't figure out the standard use of 's in English - Google finds 118 occurrences of Oop's I did it again. (A use of 's to mark the plural, plus reanalysis of oops as the plural of oop?)

However, the possessive construction is a slippery creature: you have to watch its every move. Oop's.

Posted by David Beaver at April 15, 2004 04:47 AM