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Los Angeles: English teachers, rejoice -- Children's Hospital goes grammatical

Of all the minor irritants I encounter about life in Los Angeles -- and you have your list too -- one of mine has been remedied.

Childrens Hospital is going grammatical.

That has been its legal name since it was incorporated 110 years ago: Childrens Hospital, not Children's Hospital. It's been spelled as if "childrens" was the plural and "children" the singular, as in, "My Children Is an Honor Student at Acme Middle School." As in candidate George Bush's 2000 remark, "Is our children learning?"

Every press release, every news story about the hospital's world-class work and every big bright sign on the place has read "Childrens Hospital."

Blame my spell-checking soul, but I found this so irksome that I considered leaving the hospital a bequest for the express purpose of buying the apostrophe to correct the name.

(Now that I think of it, Frank Zappa should have given the hospital a hunk of dough to install the apostrophe as a publicity stunt for his long-ago album entitled "Apostrophe (')" -- a potentially perfect conjunction of doing well by doing good.)

And now, at long last, the hospital is inserting the apostrophe itself. As part of a campaign with a new logo and branding materials, an employee survey showed "overwhelming support" for adding the apostrophe.

The hospital spokesman who told me that also kindly sent me an e-mail with a copy of the original 1901 official state incorporation document, and there it is, in beautiful copperplate, Childrens Hospital Society of Los Angeles. It shows up the same way in the hospital's typewritten incorporation papers. Is it significant that the incorporation date was April Fool's Day?

Early hospital documents used the apostrophe, but the sign over the entrance did not. The apostrophe had a willy-nilly, now-you-see-it-now-you-don't presence until 1941, when the hospital lawyers advised consistency over grammar, and "childrens" it stayed.

On a real-life scale, installing the apostrophe is nothing compared with, say, global climate change or political upheaval in Egypt, but it does remind me of the city of Los Angeles' decision nearly 10 years ago to use the tilde on street signs with Spanish names.

The "n" with a tilde is different from the "n" without one, and "ñ" is pronounced "nyuh," as in the Three Stooges' "nyuck nyuck nyuck."

Have I persuaded you yet that these language matters matter? That they can be as important to the difference in words' meanings as the numeral 4 and the numeral .4?

No? All right, then: Without that tilde letter from the alphabet of the nation to the south of us, the "Cañada" part of "La Cañada-Flintridge" would be pronounced like the name of that nation to the north of us.

And without that all-important tilde on the "ñ," instead of wishing someone a happy new year in Spanish -- feliz año nuevo -- you'd be wishing them a happy new, um, anus.

[UPDATE: A previous version of this post mistakenly had "feliz año nuevo" as "feliz ano ñuevo."]


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-- Patt Morrison


Comments () | Archives (8)

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Feliz ano ñuevo should be Feliz año nuevo.
Nice job, Patt Morrison.


Hey LA Times dummies. A story about grammatical errors with a closing emphasis on the tilde over the n and you STILL goofed up your last sentence anyway. Good times. You still wished everyone a mispronounced happy new anus.


Mitchell Young

Y cono (sin tilde) es una figura geométrica.

Alexandra Le Tellier

@ F, @AssuageMe

Blame me! I put the post up for Patt. Am mortified. Correction made.


This English professor would like to point out that written English could easily eliminate all apostrophes to no particularly ill effect. After all, we do very well without them in spoken English, where context makes us instantly catch the difference between plurality and possession. The same would be true in written English, as Childrens Hospital makes abundantly clear. Has anyone in all these years ever really paused to wonder if it were a hospital for childrens? Let it go, Patt - an over punctilious preoccupation with such pecadillos wastes much more cognition than any given apostrophe error.


I'm glad I'm not alone in thinking little things like apostrophes matter! I get extremely irritated every time I see "it's" misused in place of "its," or "your" instead of "you're," "there" instead of "they're," and so on. The written English language has gone down the toilet, and some of us do notice--and care.

To the English professor who thinks apostrophes can easily be abandoned in writing--I'm glad you weren't MY English professor!


2 Val, professor of English: U got to hold the line sumwhair, or folksll start rite-ing laik this.


Now if the LA Times would only consistently use the accented é in names like José,



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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