Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Writers, Writer’s, or Writers’?

(Warning: Educational content follows. If you were expecting a post about suicide buzzards or out-of-control rednecks or even the doings of a border collie, you might want to skip this entry.)

A member of Rocky Mount Writers wanted to know how to refer to the group: Should she use writers group, writer’s group, or writers’ group? Her question awakened my dormant inner English teacher.

My conclusion, based upon both Googling and referencing certain books that I own: It depends upon your meaning.

A group BELONGING TO (owned by) several writers can be a writers' group.

Ex. Ethel, Lucy, Annabelle Lee, Miss Kitty, and Aurora attend their writers’ group every Tuesday unless they can find something better to do.

A group COMPOSED of several writers is a writers group—no apostrophe. This is now the preferred form. The writers don't actually own the group. “Writers group” is a label, not a possessive. (reference: Bill Walsh, Lapsing Into a Comma, p. 73)

I belong to more than one writers group. One could argue that writers in this context is an adjective that tells what kind of group.

The Chicago Manual of Style backs up the no-apostrophe use. At a recent Lake Writers meeting (no apostrophe: a meeting composed of the Lake Writers), our fearless leader brought in his Chicago Manual of Style and showed us that the apostrophe-free form was acceptable. Since I—regrettably—don't own The Chicago Manual of Style, I can't quote word for word why this form is acceptable, but it is. Trust me; it’s somewhere in The Chicago Manual.

The trend in the English language is to make things simpler. (Remember all those periods that used to be in many abbreviations but no longer are?)

I rummaged around and found my 1995 edition of The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual. On page 256, I found this:

DESCRIPTIVE PHRASES: Do not add an apostrophe to a word ending in s when it is used primarily in a descriptive sense: citizens band radio, a Cincinnati Reds infielder, a teachers college, Teamsters request, a writers guide.

So, writers group can be a descriptive phrase. The AP Stylebook continues:

Memory Aid: The apostrophe usually is not used if for or by rather than of would be appropriate in the longer form: a radio band for citizens, a college for teachers, a guide for writers, a request by the Teamsters.

A group for writers? A writers group!

And more from the AP Stylebook:
An ’s is required, however, when a term involves a plural word that does not end in s: a children’s hospital, a people’s republic, the Young Men’s Christian Association.
Many organizations—though not all—omit the apostrophe. Hence, we have the VirginiaWriters Club and the Valley Writers Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club.

I checked out organizational names in The Lake, a supplement in today’s Roanoke Times, and found a bunch of examples: Trinity Treasures Sale, Virginia Trails Story Time, Freemans Concert, Virginia master naturalists certification, the Melvin Jones Award, Young Readers Book Club, etc.

This sentence works in a bunch of apostrophe-less words:
The Moneta Lions Club celebrated the 18th anniversary of the club’s charter with Lions Clubs International with a formal dinner meeting June 21 at the Pointe at Mariners Landing in Huddleston.

As I was writing this blog, an email appeared with some examples of s-less usage. Here’s part of it:

With credit approval, for qualifying purchases made on a Sears card (Sears Commercial One® and Sears Home Improvement Account (sm) accounts excluded unless otherwise indicated).

Note: it isn’t Sears’ card (or even Sears’s card) or Sears’ Home Improvement Account—even though Sears clearly possesses them.

I think that takes care of the plural. To use the singular possessive— writer's, you must have something BELONGING to ONE writer:

The writer's group of manuscripts fell off his desk.
The writer’s group, having only the writer himself as a member, met in a closet at the public library.

Thus, I can correctly say that our writers group had a Rocky Mount Writers picnic yesterday. I was there and blogged about it.

See previous blog entry.

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Blogger House on the Glade Hill said...

Thanks for the EC (educational content) warning. I had to skim this extensive research as it was just a little TMI (too much information)for me.

You are a great asset to our group and a wealth of information!

2:07 PM  
Blogger Nashville Brown said...

Yes! This is perfect! Thank you so much.
This is exactly the one thing I was struggling with today.

3:28 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

Thank you! The same for drivers license? ;>}

10:37 AM  

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