Possessive - doctor's bag, blacksmith's apron, policeman's helmet - or descriptive?

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maxiogee

Banned
English
panjandrum said:
My suggestion:
It was a doctors' bag.
Nit-pickin' Tony strolls down the street and asks "if the owner of the bag isn't a doctor, is there a doctor somewhere reporting the theft of a bag as we speak?"

It was a Gladstone Bag.
 
  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    maxiogee said:
    Nit-pickin' Tony strolls down the street and asks "if the owner of the bag isn't a doctor, is there a doctor somewhere reporting the theft of a bag as we speak?"

    It was a Gladstone Bag.
    Well you see, there aren't many around here who remember Gladstone. A doctors' bag, like a blacksmiths apron or a policeman's helmet, does not belong to any specific doctor, blacksmith or policeman. It is a statement of type, not of possession.
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    Yes, but a policeman's helmet does belong to some policeman. Jimmy the Jeweller wouldn't be wearing one. Nor would Pat the Plumber be wearing a blacksmith's apron. These things get their names because they are proper to the job the person performs. And a doctor's bag is not something which would be proper to a postman, or anyone who is not a doctor.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I sense that we are moving ever-so-slightly from the topic, and I may even feel motivated to split the last few posts to a special place of their own.

    Indeed I agree with you, most of the time.
    In general a policeman's helmet will belong to a policeman.
    But what does he ask for when he goes to the hat-shop?
    He asks for a policeman's helmet - where "policeman's" is a generic description of the type of helmet, not a statement of ownership.

    Now of course you will point out that policemen don't buy helmets in hat-shops. But a barrister buys a wig in the wig emporium (legal supplies), and when entering the establishment and accosted by the sales person the barrister must specify what kind of wig she wants to buy. Is it a judge's wig or a barrister's wig? Yet all of the wigs still belong to the wig emporium?

    For background reading, this topic was active when the young and innocent panjandrum wandered into these forums back in June last year.
    Woman’s college Vs. Baby oil
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The reason I took these ramblings to their own thread is that I spent ages trying to work out where to place the apostrophe.

    There were three options: before the s (doctor's), after the s (doctors') or in the bin (doctors).

    I settled for a doctors' bag.
    Then I thought - always a bad thing.
    I wouldn't have written a policemen's helmet?
    Yet I would have written a ladies' handbag.
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I'd be inclined to use the singular for most of them: doctor's bag, policeman's helmet... I don't quite know why ladies' handbag is an exception to that. Perhaps because we are so accustomed to seeing the ladies' department in the store, and we don't use lady by itself very often anymore.
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    If 'my' policeman were to go to the hat shop he would say to the salesperson "I'm a policeman and I require a helmet, please." He knows that the sales assistant will not then give him a fireman's helmet.

    I can't agree with the plurality of ownership implicit in your doctors' bag either. Surely with the fees they charge a practice could spring for a bag apiece?
     

    cirrus

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Do doctors actually have bags these days? For me these belong to home visitsL something I consider confined to nostalgic literature a la Doctor Finlay's Casebook - one case where there is no doubt where the apostrophe should go.
     
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