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Arkansas House to argue over apostrophes

LITTLE ROCK --Call it Arkansas' apostrophe act -- or, as Rep. Steve Harrelson would have it, "Arkansas's apostrophe act."

Harrelson filed a resolution Tuesday to declare the correct possessive form of the state as "Arkansas's." The resolution carries no legal weight, Harrelson acknowledged, but said a family friend who works as a historian asked him to carry the grammar fight to the floor.

"This is merely a favor," said Harrelson, a Democrat. "He's been asking me to do this for years and years."

Rules on forming the possessive with the Natural State can be confusing. The Associated Press Stylebook calls for singular proper names ending in 's' to solely have an apostrophe. However, Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" calls for "'s," unless using it with an ancient name.

Harrelson's friend, Parker Westbrook, describes himself as a "longtime practical Arkansas historian" and makes a case for the "'s" based on history. With English, French and Dutch explorers passing through the state, he said the state at different times was "spelled 70 different ways and pronounced 70 different ways" in its early history.

"It is an esoteric subject, yes, but it is amazing how many people don't understand the possessive case," said Westbrook, 81, of Nashville, Ark.

After Arkansas became a state, confusion remained on its spelling and its pronunciation, as many maps from the time spelled it without its final "s." A resolution by the Legislature in 1881 formalized its current spelling and pronunciation, making its final "s" silent.

"What they neglected to do is go one step farther and say what we're saying now," Westbrook said. To give the state a "possessive sound," he said it should be spelled "Arkansas's."

If passed by the House, Harrelson said he'd seek a Senate sponsor for an identical measure there.

The non-binding resolution would not affect Arkansans' use of apostrophes in Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts or neighboring Texas.