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:
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.
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.
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).
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.