Hey, apostrophize this!
By now you have seen it. State Rep. Steve Harrelson of Arkansas has filed a measure to declare that the possessive form of Arkansas is Arkansas’s.
This is not the first legislative effort to regularize the state’s name. As the Associated Press dispatch about the Harrelson measure explains, a legislative resolution in 1881 “formalized its [the state’s] current spelling and pronunciation, making the final ‘s’ silent.”
The traditional — some would insist orthodox — means of forming the possessive is to add ’s to the singular form. It is the form that The Chicago Manual of Style prescribes, though the text notes that because “feelings on these matters sometimes run high, users of this manual may wish to modify or add to the exceptions.”
Associated Press style, which is the basis for the house styles of a multitude of publications, follows a modern practice of using the apostrophe only with words ending in s. And well, English is a big language, with room for multiple practices. It was no so very long ago that Jonathan Swift and Jane Austen were writing your’s, her’s and our’s.
And while it is public-spirited of the legislators to take time away from their important work — Arkansas has officially established, for example, a state bird, flower, song, tree, gem, insect, fruit and vegetable (the South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato, which is technically a fruit but commonly called a vegetable), instrument, beverage, mammal, rock, mineral and American folk dance — efforts to regulate language are probably misguided.
The French Academy’s efforts to repel foreign terms, particularly Americanisms, are famously futile, and the efforts by various governments to make English their official language have come in for ridicule, including a post on this blog:
When I worked at The Cincinnati Enquirer the municipal authorities of the city of Hamilton, Ohio, decreed that the official name of their city was Hamilton! Apart from a mildly amused account of their action, The Enquirer declined to use the exclamation point, and I suspect many Hamilton!ians did as well. Whatever the Arkansas Legislature might eventually do, I suspect that Arkansans and others will continue to form the possessive according to their individual preferences.