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The story behind the Michigan "s"

Aug 10, 2015

Heading down to Meijer's?
Credit Mike Kalasnik / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

Here's a questions for you. Did your dad work at "Ford's?” Did your grandma shop at "Hudson's?” Do you make grocery runs at "Meijer's?”

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A lot of us have a real habit of adding that possessive "s" to a store or company’s name.

Is it just a Michigan thing?

“Many, many folks in Michigan think this is a Michigan thing, that this is part of the Michigan dialect,” University of Michigan English professor Anne Curzan says.

But Curzan says she’s heard mention of the possessive “s” used in other states too – places like Ohio, West Virginia, New York, and Missouri.

So just what’s going on here?

“The website michigannative.com says this goes back to ‘Ford’s,'” she tells us. People in Michigan referred to the Ford Motor Company as “Ford’s Factory,” since it was owned by Henry Ford.

But, she adds, “Ford’s” was not alone.

“JCPenney got that name in 1913, and I can find instances of ‘Penney’s’ back to the 1940s,” Curzan says, “so that possessive ‘s’ was happening early.”

She tells us it’s more common to find the possessive “s” when the company’s name could be a person’s name. There was “Ford’s,” but not “GM’s.”

Curzan suggests that adding the possessive “s” is a trend that has also been encouraged by the number of companies who do actually incorporate it in their name.

Notable examples include Trader Joe’s, Busch’s, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Macy’s, all of whose names actually do use the possessive “s.”

Love it or hate it, Curzan says the best thing to take away from the possessive “s” and the reason it’s stuck around might be the friendly, homey feeling it lends.

Anne Curzan co-hosts “That’s What They Say” each week with Rina Miller here on Michigan Radio.

-Ryan Grimes, Stateside