Extinct quibbles

July 18, 2013|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

It would be pleasant to think that foolish and inconsequential distinctions about usage will eventually fade away. I'm fairly sure that Anno Domini will deal with the hopefully brigade, active over the past forty years, as it previously did with the contact brigade.*

Somewhere in my remote past I was schooled that it is improper to make an inanimate noun possessive, because inanimate objects cannot possess. Thus the drug's effect is wrong and should be changed to the effect of the drug. This was so far back that I no longer recall what it was, admonition from a schoolteacher, injunction from an editor, or diktat from some self-appointed language expert, that led me to spend many years pointlessly rewriting possessives. 

Today Bryan Garner writes that "possessives of nouns denoting inanimate objects are generally unobjectionable," and indeed they appear all over the place. It has been so long since I saw an objection to an inanimate possessive that I dare to hope that the sticklers who objected to it have all been swept to that farther shore from which none return.   

But I had better check. If you please: Did you receive such instruction about usage? Do you still enforce it, or have you determined that it is a dead letter? 

*True, they will be replaced by new sticklers brandishing different crotchets, because it's never as much about advocating purity and precision in the language as it is about demonstrating my intellectual/social/moral superiority to you. 

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