Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pilfered Puck Leads to Possessive Puzzle

According to a brief Vancouver Sun filler piece this morning, Philadelphia Flyer defenceman/big meanie Chris Pronger has put a bee in the bonnet of Chicago Black Hawk fans. He scooped up the puck at the end of Game 2 during last year's Stanley Cup finals and he won't give it back. Why the Game 2 puck means so much to Hawk fans (a local restaurant is offering $50,000 for its safe repatriation to Chi-town) is not explained. In any case, Pronger is unmoved, saying:
"It's tucked away somewhere. It'll wind up on eBay at some point. All proceeds will go to the person who buys its charity."
This is a real noodle-scratcher of a conundrum because I don't think there is a clear right answer for how to render that quotation. If Pronger had said, "All proceeds will go to the charity of the person who buys it" things would be simple. But he didn't, so we have to work with what he did say.

As all people who have uncrossed eyes and eat with utensils know, it's is a contraction and its is the possessive, so at first glance that its would seem to be properly deployed; we're talking about the charity of the person who buys it, so we need a possessive. But I would plead extenuating circumstances and argue that "the person who buys its charity" is confusing, because it sounds like the person is buying the charity of "it" ("it" presumably being the puck) instead of buying the puck.

I would further argue that "the person who buys it" is acting as one semantical unit here, like a name, and so we are justified in treating it like a name and tacking an 's at the end to indicate possessiveness. So that would give us something like "All proceeds will go to the-person-who-buys-it's charity." Better, perhaps, but now there is the chance the it's can be misconstrued as a contraction. Let's try this: "All proceeds will go to 'the person who buys it' 's charity." My god, that's hideous.

No, it seems that in grammar, as in hockey, sometimes there just isn't an elegant play to be made. Sometimes you just have to dump it in off the boards and hope for the best.