The Plural of RPM? (take II)

Subject: The Plural of RPM? (take II)
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Stuart Burnfield <sburnf -at- au1 -dot- ibm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 03 May 2006 08:56:04 -0400

Stuart Burnfield responded to my comment that "nowhere does it say that only living things can possess something, and English would be a horribly stilted language if you couldn't say "the mountain's shadow"...": <<I thinks that's a little strong.>>

Fair enough. I did intentionally overstate my case to make the larger point, namely that there's no _grammatical_ reason not to use possessives with inanimate objects. There may indeed be other reasons beyond the misleading anthropomorphism I mentioned in my previous message.

<<A company might have its own reasons for preferring to avoid personification. To use Tom's example, the IBM Style guide says: Use the possessive form for individuals or individuals' titles only. Avoid the possessive form when you refer to abbreviations, brand names, and inanimate objects. Examples (incorrect) IBM's practice is to...>>

That guideline makes very good sense for trademarked names and phrases, which have more stringent rules designed to protect the trademark. I suspect that's the context for this recommendation and that the creators of the style guide found it easier to create a blanket rule than to explain the exceptions... which is a sensible decision, since writers often fail to make the distinction.

But IBM's choice is not a universal standard; for example, all the government departments I work with allow possessives if memory serves. Nor is it the most common standard. A descriptive grammarian would point out that grammar tells us how the language actually works; a prescriptive grammarian would instead state that grammar tells us how the language _should_ work. I'm a descriptive grammarian because I write and edit for people who use the language, not for those who prescribe it. Descriptive grammar tells us that using possessives for inanimate objects is the way the language is used by the vast majority.

<<I would treat this as a requirement or a strong preference if I happened to be working for IBM or an IBM partner.>>

Indeed. It pays to remember that whenever you work for someone else, you need to take their preferences into account. The client may be wrong from one's own chauvinistic viewpoint, but they're still right and they're the ones who pay the bills. <g>

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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The Plural of RPM?: From: Stuart Burnfield

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