It Doesn’t Matter How you Spell Down’s Syndrome. 17

Facebooktwitterrssby feather


I don’t care how you spell Down’s Syndrome.  Spelling won’t affect my son future, open or close doors, or affect his enjoyment of life.

That said, I get enough nasty emails attacking my spelling that I would like  an Open Response to link back to.

The “Grammar Vigilantes” invariably refer me to the NDSS (National Down Syndrome Society) “Preferred Language” page:

Down vs. Down’s – NDSS uses the preferred spelling, Down syndrome, rather than Down’s syndrome. While Down syndrome is listed in many dictionaries with both popular spellings (with or without an apostrophe s), the preferred usage in the United States is Down syndrome. This is because an “apostrophe s” connotes ownership or possession. Down syndrome is named for the English physician John Langdon Down, who characterized the condition, but did not have it. The AP Stylebook recommends using “Down syndrome,” as well.

Many moons ago, there was a movement away from calling it Down’s Syndrome (I’m not sure I yet understand the “why”).

Their efforts became the sole evidence that popular usage shifted, and there was a new “preferred usage” (Down Syndrome) on the rise.  (I’m trying to replicate the same phenomena: if I just tell enough people that Pete Rose is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, he’ll magically show up there).

“Style Guides” are like, well, you know: every industry has their own (except lawyers, who need 2  style books so  they can argue about THAT, too).  Here are a handful of other Style Guides:

  • ACS Style Guide (Chemical)
  • AMA Manual of Style (Medical)
  • AP Stylebook (Media)
  • ASA Style Guide  (Sociologists)
  • ALWD & Bluebook (Law)
  • Chicago Manual of Style (Editors)
  • Strunk’s Elements of Style (Academics, Ivy Leauge)…(Grammar Vigilantes, shouldn’t this be Strunk Element of Style?)
  • MHRA Style Guide (Academics in the Arts and Humanities)
  • MLA Style Manual (Academics, Liberal Arts)
  • New York Times Manual (New York Times only)
  • Oxford Guide to Style/New Hart’s Rules (Oxford University, and American English Elitists)
  • Publication Manual of the APA  (Psychologists)

Not all the Guides are in agreement on spelling of Down’s Syndrome – most don’t even comment on it.

What follows is the official Little Bird Dad Style Manual position on the spelling of Down’s Syndrome (Bottom Line Up Front: Spell it the way you feel is right, and let others have the same experience).

The Genitive Case.

In American English, the genitive case (recognizable by the word “of” or the suffix ‘s)  is used to show a relation between 2 nouns. For  example:

  • John’s iPad, Sandra’s Prius
  • Bird’s Motion, War’s End
  • America’s women, Mexico’s cocaine
  • Montana’s capital, Obama’s Presidency

The genitive case is very utilitarian, and can be used in many ways. Here are just a few:

1. Possession.  

Where one noun possesses or owns another noun, the genitive case is used to delineate ownership or possession.

Example:  John’s iPad,  Sandra’s Prius.

Be careful; this doesn’t necessarily imply John owns the iPad, or Sandra owns the Prius.  It might merely be a referential genitive (see below): as in, the Prius that Sandra arrived in, or the iPad John happened to be using.

2. Participatory/Action.  

Depending on context, this is called the “subjective genitive” or  “objective genitive”: one noun is used to show action, or participation with, another noun

Example: Bird’s motion, War’s End

Does the Bird own the motion? Does the war own the end?  Maybe, but it isn’t the concept being communicated. The concept being communicated is one of action, or of participation in an action.

3. Origin.

Where one noun is used to show the origin of another noun, we would again use the Genitive case.

Example: Mexico’s cocaine, America’s women

America doesn’t own or possess the women (although Texas Governor Dick Perry might believe otherwise).  One noun (women/cocaine) originates from the other noun (America/Mexico).

4. Referential.

Where one noun communicates a reference, a connection, or a relation to another noun, the genitive case would be used in a referential context. So, for example:

Example: Montana’s capital, Obama Presidency.

Montana doesn’t own or possess its capital (though it might own its capitol), nor does Obama own or possess the presidency.  The concept being communicated is the relation between a general noun (presidency, capital) and a more specific one (Montana,  Presidency).

The Referential Genitive is common in scientific applications: Bernouli’s Principle, Ockham’s Razor, etc.  The phrase communicates a reference to a concept, not that Ockham actually owns a razor.


When spelled “Down’s Syndrome” the concept being communicated is not that Dr. Down owned or even had the condition. It is expressing a referential relationship between a doctor and the syndrome to which he dedicated his career.

If you want to call it Down Syndrome, I’m totally cool with that: use whatever  feels right to you.  I’d just like to have the same opportunity.  If we can agree to let each other use our own spelling, we can join forces on something much more meaningful, like #JusticeForEthan.

I’m outta here – I’ve got to take my neighbor Prius to the bar to complain about Obama presidency.

Other Posts you Might Like:

Why a Diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome Just Doesn’t Matter.

The Big Myth about a Down Syndrome Diagnosis.

Can Bad Words Add Great Value?

A Year of Breakfasts.

Facebooktwittermailby feather

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

17 thoughts on “It Doesn’t Matter How you Spell Down’s Syndrome.

  • spencercourt

    I was not aware of this “controversy.” The “logic” used by NDSS does not seem to apply to Alzheimer’s Disease. He did not have it; he just was the first to describe it.

    • Little Bird's Dad

      It’s a small controversy, but judging by the volume of email, one would think it should be covered on Oprah. 😉

      Good point about Alz. disease, I plan to borrow that argument. 🙂

      Quick question for you – your blog has a “translation” widget to translate it to other languages…where did you find that widget? Have you gotten feedback on the quality of the translations?

      Little Bird’s Dad

      • spencercourt

        What you do is go to:

        There is an option to enter a website page which will be translated to whatever language they have. After entering URL, you will be taken to the site and it will be in the labnuage you selected.

        Copy the link in the browser and save it to a text file. Do this for again for each language you want.

        Then, use WP widgets to create a text file with links to the saved URLs.

        You are the only one to have commented on those translation links. I like tot think it is bringing some folks but since my keywords are only in English….not sure how they would find my blog. Maybe if they knew enough English to search and then read translated page.

        Or…translate keywords into a few languages and put them in there. I think I ill start doing that…

        • Little Bird's Dad

          Awesome….thanks for the info. I’m going to give it a shot…on this blog, I’m sure I’ll have to find the widget-workaround (, but on my work blog, this will be a huge competitive edge in the Texas and SW markets where my clients are.

          Thanks, and looking forward to seeing you back!


  • richardbailey1

    I’ve always thought that ‘Down syndrome’, makes it sound really miserable.
    As in, that syndrome really brings me down.
    I much prefer how we use it in Britain, Down’s syndrome.
    As in, it is just a syndrome that Dr Down recognised.

    Good stuff LBD.

  • juliechallenges

    Personally, I’m Australian, and I do prefer people to say that my son has Down Syndrome, rather than Down’s Syndrome. But my pet peeve really is when people say “that’s a Down’s kid/child”, or a Down’s Syndrome child” or even “Down Syndrome” child. Rather, I point out to them that he is a child *with* Down Syndrome – big difference!

    He is a child who just happens to have Down Syndrome! In fact, I like to point out that he has more than one disability. When strangers ask hesitatingly, “Does he have….?”, I sometimes (truthfully) answer, “Yes! He is autistic”. Haha!

    One more peeve: people who say my son “suffers” from Down Syndrome. What suffering?? He is having the time of his life.

  • ukechick

    Interesting, my daughter with Down’s Syndrome also has DeGeorge’s Syndrome. I’ve never heard it referred to as DeGeorge Syndrome. I suppose there aren’t enough parents out there with kids like mine who are looking for an argument.
    Seems a fairly silly debate, doesn’t it?
    But yes, I do insist that if one must comment on the fact that my kid has DS that she is referred to as a “kid with DS” and not as DS or a DS kid. Ooh, how I hate that! And yeah, she does not suffer from DS. She suffers from idiots who make assumptions. lol