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.