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A Place's Name

Rosie Right

Rosie received such an interesting and amusing letter from W.E. Trout III that she, with his permission, is turning her column over to it. He writes: "My theory is that the surplus apostrophes which you have found mysteriously appearing in words such as 'nut's' are the same ones which have finally found a resting place after having been forcibly removed from place names such as 'Mayo's Island' by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. "Beginning in the 1890s (formerly the 1890's) this federal board has been hunting down and killing the possessive apostrophe and apostrophe s's in thousands of American place names. As a result, we have lost some of the music in our language. Which resonates better to the ear, 'Mayo's Island' or 'Mayo Island'? 'Bosher's Dam' or 'Bosher Dam'? Without the 's, these names are dull, dead, and definitely not Southern. "Some years ago Ben Beagle of the Roanoke Times & World News wrote a wonderful article, 'The case of the missing apostrophe.' I found the clipping, undated, in the marvelous newspaper scrapbook in the South Boston, Virginia, Public Library. Beagle describes the work of the U.S. Board of Geographic Names and efforts that some people have made to retain apostrophes in place names. For example, at Washington and Lee, those involved with campus maps decided to defy the Board and keep the apostrophe in 'Wood's Creek' despite the 'pea-brained federal martinets who decide these things.' "Perhaps I am comfortable with apostrophes because I enjoy reading old maps and documents from the time when it was common for place names to have them. Now they have been prohibited on highway signs and maps. We've lost part of the charm of our place names, and probably tourist dollars as well. Can a town get away with pasting "s's on its highway signs?" The article by Ben Beagle expands on Mr. Trout's discussion: "At Washington and Lee University in Lexington, the people who write for and about the university decided they would defy the board. "They decided they would write the name of a stream on the back campus as Wood's Creek although the federal government and thus state and local governments continue to think of it as Wood Creek. "'We'll defy the pea-brained martinets who decide these things, and if they don't like it, we'll damned well secede,' wrote Bob Keefe of the university's news service." Rosie is delighted to learn that apostrophes can arouse such emotion. Onward and upward with the love of proper language! Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1707 Summit Ave, Suite 201, Richmond Va. 23230), fax (355-9089) or e-mail

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