Wharf's apostrophe is in the wrong place

Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2007

The apostrophe in Peoples' Wharf seems as misplaced as Mark Regan's reliance on Winston Churchill. Unless I'm completely misunderstanding the nature of the Wharf, the proper punctuation should be "People's."

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Obviously, the question hinges on whether the name connotes "people" in the singular form, or the plural. In the singular form, the apostrophe would precede the "s." In the plural form, it would follow the "s."

The American Heritage Dictionary offers several closely related definitions for the singular form of "people," but only one definition for the plural form: "a body of persons sharing a common religion, culture, language or inherited condition of life." This is precisely what Churchill wrote about in "A History of the English-speaking Peoples." But, is that what the Wharf is about? I don't think so.

Is the Wharf cloaked in references to groups defined by religions, culture, language, or inherited condition of life? I don't recall Olympic or United Nations-style displays of flags, or Ellis Island-style references to the big melting pot. And, although Regan erroneously attempts to bootstrap furriers and diamond merchants into the ranks of "peoples," his examples fall squarely within the nonplural definitions, instead - especially this one: "Persons with regard to their residence, class, profession, or group."

More generally, however, my impression of the Wharf was that it was purchased from Alaska Coastal-Ellis long ago, and renamed to suggest that it was reopened to cater to the public: "The mass of ordinary persons; the populace," which is precisely how American Heritage defines the singular form of "people."

It seems reasonably clear that the Wharf serves "people" in the singular form, and not the plural. Therefore, Churchill's usage should not apply, and the apostrophe should precede the "s," rather than follow it.

Notwithstanding all that, I suspect the renamers had far more important business interests to worry about instead of donning their nerd caps and contemplating the finer art of apostrophes. To end this debate, they merely need to proclaim it the United Nations of Wharfs. Or repaint the sign.

Mark Aase

Los Angeles

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