Apostrophe Usage, Part 748...
June 11, 2013 6:11 PM   Subscribe

In athletics, do events named "boys 100m" or "girls javelin" have an apostrophe? That is, should they rightly be "boys' 100m" and "girls' javelin"? It seems that the standard usage for grownup events is "men's" and "women's", but I'm unsure. Opinions?
posted by Jehan to Writing & Language (9 answers total)
I've seen the apostrophe used in this way:

Boys' 100m = plural for boy is adding the S; Boy's would imply a single possession; but you need to show a plural usage for boy + possession; Boys's 100m you would not have two S'S together, therefore the apostrophe in Boys' is in place of the second S.

Men is already plural, adding the apostrophe S shows possession; Men's race.
Women is plural, adding the apostrophe S show possession of the race; Women's Race

On the other hand
Lady is singular, Ladies is plural; to show possession, add S then apostrophe; Ladies' Race.

Sometimes I hate English.
posted by JujuB at 7:04 PM on June 11, 2013

Possibly it doesn't always parse strictly and (lazily) is just boys + 100 m concatenated and you are over-thinking it...
posted by lathrop at 7:43 PM on June 11, 2013

The apostrophe is correct, though often you see terms like this without it. Also, "s's" is acceptable to show possession for most singular nouns, but not plural nouns.
posted by azure_swing at 7:58 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think if you just say girls 100m like all results pages do, you'll be fine.

In this LA Times story they use apostrophes after boys for the event in the subheadline but not the article. I'd imagine the article probably had higher editorial standards.

I'd just avoid the awkward-looking-though-perhaps-technically-correct apostrophes because an apostrophe followed by numbers looks awkward. Boys' 3200m looks bad. For field events I'd avoid the apostrophe too because it should be consistent with the other events.
posted by Luminiferous Ether at 8:01 PM on June 11, 2013

Yes, you should have an apostrophe: boys' 100m, girls' javelin. Awkwardness, "It looks bad," and/or inconsistencies in a Los Angeles Times article are not good reasons to omit these apostrophes.
posted by limeonaire at 8:08 PM on June 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

It may look awkward to have the apostrophe to some people; to me it looks unfinished. The two nouns are unrelated as written. It would be like writing "cats desk" - there's no inherent relationship between these two things. If, on the other hand, you do have a cat who likes to sleep on the desk and you call it "the cat's desk", it's clear that there is a relationship between the cat and the desk, that the desk belongs to the cat by virtue of sleeping on it. If you had more than one cat and they curled up in a puddle of cat on the desk, then it would be "the cats' desk" (the desk belongs to more than one cat).

In the examples you give, the 100m race and the javelin don't exactly belong to the boys or the girls, but there is a relationship between them - the 100m race being run by the boys, the javelins being thrown by the girls. Hence, boys' 100m race; girls' javelin.

People get lazy about apostrophes, particularly when they are plural possessives because they just hang there like an afterthought - except they're not, they directly relate to what comes next. They are more commonly used when the plural noun (men, women) does not end in s. It really irritates me when people leave out punctuation, usually apostrophes but also commas, semi-colons, etc because they think it is superfluous. Punctuation was invented for a reason, it adds a layer of meaning and nuance which is otherwise missing. Most would agree that there's a big difference between writing :) and :( at the end of an email; non-smiley punctuation is just as meaningful and just as important.

Here endeth the rant.

Oh, but one last snark: it does surprise me that the LA Times article got it right in the headline and wrong in the article. I would have expected them to get it wrong in both places. They must have one last subeditor who actually understands grammar...
posted by Athanassiel at 9:40 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's what The Chicago Manual of Style has to say about it:
7.25 Possessive versus attributive forms

The line between a possessive or genitive form (see 7.24) and a noun used attributively—to modify another noun—is sometimes fuzzy, especially in the plural. Although terms such as employees’ cafeteria sometimes appear without an apostrophe, Chicago dispenses with the apostrophe only in proper names (often corporate names) that do not use one or where there is clearly no possessive meaning.
children’s rights
farmers’ market
women’s soccer team
boys’ clubs
taxpayers’ associations (or taxpayer associations)
consumers’ group (or consumer group)
Publishers Weekly
Diners Club
Department of Veterans Affairs
posted by stebulus at 10:01 PM on June 11, 2013

Following on from stebulus, I would make a judgement depending on whether the phrase is being used as the title (and therefore "proper name") for the event or a description of the event. For example, I ran a kids' club that used to be styled "Kids' Club" and I changed it to "Kids Club". Both iterations were better than its even older name "Freddie's Kids' Club", which looked as though it was a club solely for Freddie's children (Freddie was a friendly bird mascot).

In this instance, I lean toward the possessive and would use the apostrophe. Also, if other events in the same day use an apostrophe, then the junior events should follow suit.
posted by dumdidumdum at 5:36 AM on June 12, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you for all the answers. I have chased those kids down and tacked apostrophes onto them.
posted by Jehan at 4:46 PM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

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