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Words Sept. 29

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“Landlord found guilty of maintaining drug lab; Prosecutor calls LR apartments untenable.” Douglas E. Young asks “How about unlivable? Untenantable?” Either would be correct. But so is untenable. Although we usually think of untenable as meaning “indefensible,” it can also mean “not fit to be occupied, as an apartment, house, etc.” Mr. Young also asks, “When people’s names end in s, why not use s’ for the possessive rather than eses, i.e. the Jones’ house rather than the Joneses house?” There seems to be some confusion here between possessives and plurals. If we are referring to a house owned by the former Razorback quarterback, we say Matt Jones’ house or Matt Jones’s house. Either form of the possessive is correct. But if we’re talking about the members of Matt Jones’ family, we refer to the Joneses, that being the plural of Jones. And if we’re talking about the house they occupy, we say the Joneses’ house or the Joneses’s house. Eleanor Lipsmeyer (unless I’m misreading the signature) is thinking along the same lines. Submitting a Boston Globe editorial headlined “Roberts’s Qualities,” she writes, “I thought if a word ended in an s, an apostrophe was added without another s. Which is right?” Both. You can take your pick. Most newspapers follow Associated Press style and add only the apostrophe (“Roberts’ Qualities”). The Arkansas Times follows that style too, except we make an exception for Arkansas’s. Because the last s in Arkansas is silent, there would be no s sound in the possessive unless one is added. “Police have arrested one person since Saturday, a woman suspected of public intoxication. Police are working to diffuse trouble rather than make arrests, Atkinson said.” I guess it’s possible that the police were trying to thin out the trouble by spreading it over a wider area. More likely, they were working to defuse trouble, to make the situation less dangerous. Land of Opportunity and Chance: Baseball manager — “Most of the teams are home at this point. It’s not every year you get an opportunity to get a chance to get a ring and accomplish something as a whole group.”

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