Sunday, February 12, 2012

For Want of an Apostrophe

There’s a punctuation controversy in the Pikes Peak region that, apparently, continues to drive certain grammarians absolutely bonkers: the lack of an apostrophe in “Pikes Peak.”

Having lived in the area most of my life, I’ve simply grown accustomed to the spelling of Pikes Peak sans apostrophe. But the story of how this spelling developed was lost in cranial space until I was reminded of it this past week.

The short answer: It’s the government’s fault.

The slightly longer answer for you history buffs: The majestic mountain that overlooks Colorado Springs was named after explorer Zebulon Pike, who was dispatched by President Thomas Jefferson to survey the southwestern borders of the Louisiana Purchase. The name originally shown on maps was “Pike’s Peak,” with the apostrophe. Then the apostrophe disappeared.

According to the “Did You Ever Wonder?” column in the Gazette:

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names was created by the President in 1890. It removed most of the apostrophes from the geographic locations including mountains, bodies of water, etc., because the apostrophe denotes possession.

Six exceptions included: Martha’s Vineyard (1933) because of a vocal local campaign and Clark’s Mountain in Oregon (2002), requested  “to correspond with the personal references to Lewis and Clark.”

Additionally, the “Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain” web page says a law passed by the Colorado state legislature in 1978 mandates usage of “Pikes Peak.”

You will still see references to “Pike’s Peak,” but they’re probably written by rebellious grammarians.

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