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Senate gives support to possessive form of Arkansas

By By Jon Gambrell

This article was published March 13, 2007 at 8:47 p.m.

Senators settle on Arkansas's

Harrelson says adding apostrophe-s makes sense

— The "s" has it.

In what became a grammatical Gordian knot, the Arkansas Senate supported a resolution Tuesday declaring "Arkansas's" the correct way to write the state's possessive case. The Senate vote came after a few groans and an introduction by Sen. Jim Hill, who said he studied the history surrounding "the much-debated apostrophe-s."

After receiving a single question, the Senate took a voice vote supporting the resolution by Rep. Steve Harrelson, D-Texarkana. However, a few "no" votes could be heard.

Hill, D-Nashville, lamented the lack of enthusiasm on the floor.

"This thing is seeded in history," he said. "I expected more intelligent questions than this."

Arkansas became a state in 1836, but formalizing its spelling was another matter as maps from the time often dropped its final "s." A resolution by the Legislature in 1881 formalized the state's current spelling and pronunciation, making its final "s" silent.

Harrelson carried the resolution to the Legislature this year on behalf of Parker Westbrook, who describes himself as a "longtime practical Arkansas historian." On Tuesday, he described the Senate vote as a vindication for his long-held view.

"We've waited 126 years for this," Westbrook said. "This adds, shall we say, legitimacy."

While Westbrook believes the historical case backs up his claim, grammar experts disagree. The Associated Press Stylebook calls for singular proper names ending in 's' to solely have an apostrophe. Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" calls for "'s," unless using it with an ancient name.

The "apostrophe act" made news broadcasts in Washington, D.C., and provided fodder for newspaper editorials from the statewide Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which does not use the extra "s", and was mentioned by a columnist with the Boston Globe, who approved the additional consonant.

The resolution now heads to Gov. Mike Beebe, whose office began using the additional "s" in news releases Monday, said spokesman Matt DeCample. However, the governor's Web site still offers users a link for more information about Ginger Beebe, "Arkansas' First Lady."

Harrelson, who apologized several times to legislators after the attention the bill received, said Tuesday he had no regrets, although he doesn't plan to offer additional grammar bills in the future.

"I'll tell you I never expected all the attention I received on this resolution," Harrelson said. "I did this as a gesture and tribute to a well-known historian. I was glad I did it for him."

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