John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Possessive pregnancy

A construction keeps turning up in the newspaper that I don’t usually see elsewhere, and it leaves me wondering what the apostrophe has to do with pregnancy. It goes like this: The driver was six months’ pregnant.

What was meant was clear when I was told that my severance package would include five months’ wages — that it would be the pay of five months. But six months pregnant would tell me that a woman has been enceinte for that span of time, and omission of the apostrophe seems just fine. So what degree of meaning is conveyed by making the term possessive?

I’m away from my books at the moment, filling out interminable and maddeningly duplicative electronic job applications, so I leave you this time with a question rather than an answer. Feel free to speculate.

10 comments:

  1. Then there's "six-months pregnant," similar to "ten-years old."

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  2. No speculation here. I find that strange considering people don't usually (YMMV) make that mistake with six months early, et al.

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  3. Oh-oh-oh, I think I know this one. It's "six months pregnant" (because "pregnant" is an adjective) or "six months' pregnancy" (because "pregnancy" is a noun.)

    Do I pass? Do I get promoted to the next grade? Do you want to play baseball this summer?

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  4. just makes me want to get all my knocked-up friends to refer to themselves this way. "oof, I'm six months wortha pregnant!"

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  5. Think of the people who see "thank-you letter" once and begin hyphenating every instance of "thank you." The constructions look the same--doesn't matter what the words are actually doing in a sentence.

    Good luck with the apps!

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  6. I think the apostrophe suggests an omission, as in "five months worth of pay." But it would make no sense to say "She has six months worth of pregnancy."

    (And another issue of possessives goes into effect after the baby is born. The comedian Gallagher once said that you don't have a baby, a baby has you.)

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  7. Anon took mine...no fair.

    I agree with the omission theory.

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  8. did you know I can't paste into the comment box? nor can I use the arrow keys to move around in it? only on blogspot, it seems. weird.

    anywho, here's a hand-typed link:

    http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2746261248/tt0313737

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  9. Anonymous, you also can't do a double space after a period. More than one space is ignored.

    And you can't use normal navigation methods like left or right arrow. If you want to move the cursor, it's all mouse all the time.

    I know this isn't John's fault, but it is annoying.

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  10. Perhaps six months is a rapper or poet and the pregnancy belongs to, or should be credited to them . . .

    No, that cannot be. I will continue cogitation in relative silence.

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