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Jimmy's or Jimmys? Feds Wage War on Apostrophes

Punctuation in place names spawns fight
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted May 16, 2013 11:42 AM CDT

(Newser) – Residents of New York's Adirondack Mountains have a bone to pick with the federal government. At issue: punctuation. A nearby mountain known to many as Jimmy's or James' Peak, but US officials won't stand for the apostrophe in the name, leading a local supervisor to grumble, "Jimmys looks plural, not possessive." Indeed, the Board on Geographic Names, founded by President William Henry Harrison in 1890, has only awarded five possessive apostrophes in place names in more than a century, the Wall Street Journal reports. Those include Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and Clark's Mountain, Ore.

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Meanwhile, the board has erased apostrophes from some 250,000 names. Its Domestic Names Committee holds that possessive apostrophes suggest public lands are privately owned. But apostrophe advocates haven't given up on their beloved punctuation. "Place names are the autobiography of a nation," says one advocate who worked with South Dakota's naming organization. "The apostrophe has a function." The US, the Journal notes, is the sole country that takes an official stance against apostrophes. (Read more apostrophe stories.)

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