After the apostrophe goes, what next?

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As Arnold Zwicky has reported (here) the movement to get rid of possessive apostrophes has reached a crescendo among place-name language planners like the Birmingham city council, who have stopped using them on street signs. Feeding the fire a bit, Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words, also cited by Arnold (here), then reported how other language planners, including the US Board on Geographic Names and the Committee for Geographic Names in Australia, are also making the world safe from possessive apostrophes.

These actions leave many wondering whether this forebodes an impending egalitarian march against not only the possessive apostrophe, but also against other possessive indicators and perhaps even against the human frailty of unbridled possessiveness.

In fact, this may be exactly what will happen. Unconfirmed rumors have it that after the possessive apostrophe is finally eliminated, the first person possessive pronouns, my and mine will next come under the attack of language planners. Although the leaders of a grass roots organization called World Egalitarian Language Planners (WELP) have not yet unveiled how they plan to get rid of those nasty little self-centered possessive pronouns, close sources who are as yet unwilling to be identified say that one likely solution is to replace the possessive pronouns my and mine with second person pronouns prefixed with un- , yielding utterances such as, “I’d like to express unyour opinion on the matter” and “Other members of unyour squad would like to know who will play first base on unyour softball team next season.” Song lyrics will need to be changed, of course. High on the candidate list will be, “I find a broken heart among unyour souvenirs” and “I want to make you unyours.”

Then what? After first person pronouns have been completely abolished, WELP’s next obvious task will be to remove all second and third person possessive pronouns as well, based on their philosophy that possession has no place in the increased enlightenment of a totally egalitarian state. This would leave us with sentences like: “I’d like to express opinion on the matter,” “I find a broken heart among souvenirs,” and the perhaps more troublesome, “I want to make you.”

When this final language planning phase begins, the un- marker will be removed, and first person pronoun possession, like apostrophes on street signs and place names, will be stamped out forever.

It remains unclear what the future holds for second and third person possessive pronouns.

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