The familiar, if idiosyncratic, feature of English—possessive -s—is under unprecedented scrutiny tonight after the findings of a three-
“Take ‘Chomsky’s gall bladder’,” screamed Professor Hermione von Graft de la Rochelle bin Ahmed O’Toole de la Mancha McCotton, PI on the project, as we nestled down on two of the many bean bags of her multicoloured office space in the highest ivory tower of Preston International Neurolinguistic Institute (PINI) sometime last week. “Does Noam possess his gall bladder? Surely not. This use of so-called possessive -s is closer to a part-
We munched biscuits for a moment, looking distractedly around the office while, in the distance, gulls seemed to cry, symbolising, as it were, for the briefest of moments, that fragile connection between the biscuit industry and the end user.
Prof ’Mione (as she likes to be called) wittered on. “Yes of course, of course, of course, the relationship is sometimes clearly possessive: Plato’s pen, or Aristotle’s campervan, but this is a minority of cases and obtains only when the N2 is some kind of commodity. This is a far cry from constructions like ‘God’s existence’ or ‘humanity’s past’ where possession as the characterising factor is ultra-
“Given the above,” she mercifully concluded, “the consortium is recommending the abolition of the term ‘possessive -s’ and instead proposing the far more appropriate term ‘mono-
A number of educational organisation have reacted positively to this terminological shift. The spokesperson for the UK’s National Union of Teachers of Writing to Small Kids in Schools, Mick Madsen, was overheard to say that, “It’s high time we stopped poisoning kids’ minds with some rubbish about ‘possessive’ -s and start telling them the truth about this important part of English. Who knows how many lives have been blighted by an improper understanding of the kinds of semantic relationships that -s actually encodes.”