Re: Years in Toronto only, not

Subject: Re: Years in Toronto only, not
From: "Accentuated Brandname Creativity, Inc." <acreatyv -at- SATURN -dot- NET>
Date: Thu, 6 Mar 1997 02:04:23 -0500

Maurice Rose quotes Toronto's Globe and Mail 1996 style book (snip mine):

"Expressions that sound possessive but do not involve true possession
are treated as merely descriptive, with no apostrophe (first ministers
conference). These include common expressions involving lengths of
time (two weeks vacation, five years imprisonment); however, idiom
requires an apostrophe for the singular (a week's vacation). Other
expressions considered descriptive are those that, if rewritten as
phrases, would take the prepositions 'for' or 'by' rather than 'of' -
a hitchhikers guide, a teachers college, citizens band. [snip]"

The sentence about lengths of time is the operative one here (at least,
for those who abide by this style book); read correctly, though, the last
sentence applies as well. Vacation for two weeks, imprisonment for five
years, obtaining experience for six months, and so on.

An understandable reading of that last sentence is that you must (or
should) use an apostrophe if insertion of "of" (without reversing what
"owns" and what's "owned") would not change the meaning. Despite the
unclear wording, though, that is not the correct interpretation IMO:
Attribute "of" What-Owns-It (or Owner's Attribute) is the structure
referred to. While "years of experience," idiomatic and idiosyncratic,
does not follow that structure, "experience of years" (the relevant
form) does. Or maybe Wayne guessed the writers' intended meaning of
"descriptive" and is right about the descriptive/possessive distinction;
I don't see it, but think it's defensible.

What distresses me about threads like this is that it is quite common to
strip what gets quoted of context, and then to turn the meaning of what
remains on its head. I hope people communicate better in real life.

Chuck Brandstater
acreatyv -at- saturn -dot- net
"Cogito ergo assume". - K. Lew

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