Opinion: Los Angeles: English teachers, rejoice -- Children’s Hospital goes grammatical


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Of all the minor irritants I encounter about life in Los Angeles -- and you have your list too -- one of mine has been remedied.

Childrens Hospital is going grammatical.

That has been its legal name since it was incorporated 110 years ago: Childrens Hospital, not Children’s Hospital. It’s been spelled as if ‘childrens’ was the plural and ‘children’ the singular, as in, ‘My Children Is an Honor Student at Acme Middle School.’ As in candidate George Bush’s 2000 remark, ‘Is our children learning?’


Every press release, every news story about the hospital’s world-class work and every big bright sign on the place has read ‘Childrens Hospital.’

Blame my spell-checking soul, but I found this so irksome that I considered leaving the hospital a bequest for the express purpose of buying the apostrophe to correct the name.

(Now that I think of it, Frank Zappa should have given the hospital a hunk of dough to install the apostrophe as a publicity stunt for his long-ago album entitled ‘Apostrophe (‘)’ -- a potentially perfect conjunction of doing well by doing good.)

And now, at long last, the hospital is inserting the apostrophe itself. As part of a campaign with a new logo and branding materials, an employee survey showed ‘overwhelming support’ for adding the apostrophe.

The hospital spokesman who told me that also kindly sent me an e-mail with a copy of the original 1901 official state incorporation document, and there it is, in beautiful copperplate, Childrens Hospital Society of Los Angeles. It shows up the same way in the hospital’s typewritten incorporation papers. Is it significant that the incorporation date was April Fool’s Day?

Early hospital documents used the apostrophe, but the sign over the entrance did not. The apostrophe had a willy-nilly, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t presence until 1941, when the hospital lawyers advised consistency over grammar, and ‘childrens’ it stayed.


On a real-life scale, installing the apostrophe is nothing compared with, say, global climate change or political upheaval in Egypt, but it does remind me of the city of Los Angeles’ decision nearly 10 years ago to use the tilde on street signs with Spanish names.

The ‘n’ with a tilde is different from the ‘n’ without one, and ‘ñ’ is pronounced ‘nyuh,’ as in the Three Stooges’ ‘nyuck nyuck nyuck.’

Have I persuaded you yet that these language matters matter? That they can be as important to the difference in words’ meanings as the numeral 4 and the numeral .4?

No? All right, then: Without that tilde letter from the alphabet of the nation to the south of us, the ‘Cañada’ part of ‘La Cañada-Flintridge’ would be pronounced like the name of that nation to the north of us.

And without that all-important tilde on the ‘ñ,’ instead of wishing someone a happy new year in Spanish -- feliz año nuevo -- you’d be wishing them a happy new, um, anus.

[UPDATE: A previous version of this post mistakenly had ‘feliz año nuevo’ as ‘feliz ano ñuevo.’]



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