Friday, April 15, 2011

ALOTT5MA FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO: Two items. First, a request from Heathalouise:
As I've mentioned before, I'm writing my dissertation on media coverage of the Boston Red Sox. Without boring you with too much detail, it's about the intersection of mythology, ritual and collective identity and the creation of "Red Sox Nation." I have struggled with this one stylistic dilemma: How do I write the possessive of Red Sox: Red Sox's or Red Sox'? 
The use is inconsistent in the press and at Major League Baseball. Because of the theoretical slant of my work, I can't just substitute with "Boston." I'll hold off on the logic behind my preferred style (and what it is), but I wondered what everybody else thought.
I think it's a real mess if you can't say Boston's. Sox' (no apostrophe) clearly can't be right, which leaves Sox's as the better answer. Seriously, I'd do whatever I could to avoid having to answer this one.

Second: Ben Yagoda's recent Slate piece tackles "How long should we cling to a word's original meaning?", citing these examples:
Disinterested traditionally meant "impartial," and now is generally used to mean "uninterested." Presently has gone from "shortly" to "currently"; momentarily from "for a moment" to "in a moment"; and nonplussed from perplexed to unimpressed, or fazed to unfazed.
I've adopted the newer definitions for the latter three, but haven't shifted on disinterested. You?

Poll results: Presently has shifted to "currently" (57%-43%), and nonplussed clearly now means "unimpressed" (71%-29% margin).


  1. Meghan9:25 AM

    I guess I'd go with Sox's, as I'd write, "It's Max's book," though I realize that Sox is already supposed to be pluralized.  Also?  GO SOX!

    On the second question, I've adopted the newer definitions of all of those cited, so clearly not very long.  I just usually throw in some comment about the meaning of the word having changed if I recognize that members of my audience might think I'm using it inappropriately.  Usually, I'm all about the fluidity of language.  This should not be considered an acceptance of irregardless, though.  My language shamanism holds forth on selected points of my choosing.

  2. Maggie9:25 AM

    The second issue comes up a lot with my job, where I frequently have to discuss/address/write about directors of a company that are "disinterested" (as in impartial or not associated with management).  It's basically a term of art in my practice area, but inevitably Joe Director comments that he doesn't like the implication that he's not doing his job.  I tend to use "independent" instead. 

    Does "fulsome" fit in this category? It originally meant offensive to good taste (fulsome praise), but now is used to mean copious or comprehensive (a fulsome discussion).

  3. It does; it's part of Yagoda's broader chart in the article, along with decimate and hoi polloi.

  4. Maggie9:38 AM

    Should have been less lazy and clicked through to the article in the first place.  According to his chart, I'm being a bit of pill by correcting the partner's use of fulsome.

  5. I also get stumped when I'm trying to refer to a player on the Red Sox as a singular unit--he's a...Red Sock? I usually go with "on the Sox." And then I hiss. Go O's!

  6. I just came here to say that that sounds like the greatest dissertation of all time and I hope to have the opportunity to read it someday.  (How I failed to find a way to incorporate the Red Sox into my dissertation is an utter mystery.)

  7. #1:  I would use Red Sox' because it is closest to how I would say it out loud.
    #2:  I'm only still using the old meaning of disinterested.
    Meta comment:  Wicked cool dissertation topic. 

  8. It still bugs me when they say the plane will be landing momentarily. I'm a snob, though.

  9. gtv200011:03 AM

    And then there's "hopefully"

  10. isaac_spaceman11:06 AM

    I say Red Sox's, though I would use "Red Sox management's" or "Red Sox organization's" or "team's" or "institution's" as often as possible.  Like Adam, "disinterested" still means something to me, as does "fulsome."  I dread the day when "meretricious" and "meritorious" morph into each other. 

  11. I wonder if only law-talking-folks still use "disinterested" properly.

  12. Andrew11:18 AM

    I'd try to use the team's or the players' as much as possible and only wherever it's absolutely necessary, with Red Sox'

    Disinterested means impartial, not uninterested.

  13. heathalouise1:16 PM

    Thanks so much, everybody. You all have pointed out my main issue -- I (and most folks, I think) read "Sox" as plural, which makes the apostrophe-S seem wrong gramatically. "Institution" is a word that had totally slipped my mind as a good synonym for organization. I am trying to avoid the phrasing as much as possible. It so much easier when I actually can say" Red Sox Nation's" or "Boston's." I'm defending in September, but finishing my draft in the next month. I will let y'all know when it's done if you have any interest in reading ~200 pages of baseball and journalism nerdiness.

  14. heathalouise1:17 PM

    It's maddeningly inconsistent! I have footage of Theo Epstein saying "Red Sock," but most of the journalists/broadcasters say "a Red Sox."

  15. Marsha1:28 PM

    Needless to say, same problem with White Sox. they get around it here by saying someone "joined the White Sox" instead of saying "became a White Sock" or whatever it would be.

  16. Marsha1:30 PM

    Not sure abotu only, Adam, but I'd say a much higher percentage of law-talkin-folks use it properly than anyone else. Maybe corporate types too.

  17. Marsha1:31 PM

    I think it's safe to say that you have found a group of people almost uniquely at that intersection of baseball and journalism nerdiness. Count me in for wanting very much to read it when you're done.

  18. Roger2:27 PM

    Doesn't this answer it
    A few English nouns have plurals that are not spelled with a final s but end in an /s/ or a /z/ sound: mice (plural of mouse, and for compounds like dormouse, titmouse), dice (when used as the plural of die), pence (a plural of penny, with compounds like sixpence that now tend to be taken as singulars). In the absence of specific exceptional treatment in style guides, the possessives of these plurals are formed by adding an apostrophe and an s in the standard way: seven titmice’s tails were found, the dice’s last fall was a seven, his few pence’s value was not enough to buy bread. These would often be rephrased, where possible: the last fall of the dice was a seven.<sup></sup><span>[</span>6<span>]</span>

  19. Anonymous2:42 PM

    Roger's rigorous answer would be good enough for me if "Sox's" looked like what people say.  It doesn't, to me.  It looks like an extra syllable (ala "titmice" / "titmice's" and the other examples in his citation).  I'm trying to think of a counter-example, but coming up empty.

    Hold the line on "disinterested" and "nonplussed", but the others strike me as more flexible.

  20. Meghan3:44 PM

    I absolutely will want to read it and will probably send it to my brothers too, if that's okay with you.

  21. Scholars of American history tend to use it properly as well, most often in the context of explaining why many of the Founders preferred that government be run by wealthy gentlemen who didn't need to earn salaries.  Such men were presumed to be "disinterested," i.e. disinclined to see government service as a means to enrich themselves.

    How'd that work out by the way?