A Battle Either Way

8 10 2008

With the appointment of a new and passionate head of the Australian Liberal Party, the incumbent Labour party is being forced to step up a notch and deliver on all of their promises. With many swinging voters now beginning to side with the Opposition, the Labour Party is losing much of their erstwhile constituency. While I don’t care very much (and I mean no offence, but I really don’t), I was at least interested to read the headline on a local newspaper – one that I have been consistently stepping over for the last week or so but which is now in my garbage bin:

“Battle to Reclaim Loves Labour’s Lost”

I can honestly say that it took me almost an entire minute, stooped awkwardly over the crumpled tabloid where it lay at the entrance to my house, to try and unscramble the awkward syntax of that line. The problem with it is that it quotes the title of a Shakespearean play in a manner that substantially alters the syntax of that title.

Shakespeare’s play is entitled, “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and can be broken down as follows:
Love’s: singular noun, with possessive apostrophe
Labour’s: singular noun, genitive, with contractual apostrophe
Lost: passive participle
= ‘The labour of love is lost’ (in paraphrase)

This headline, however, features the following clause: “Loves Labour’s Lost”, which must be broken down as follows:
Loves: plural noun
Labour’s: proper noun, with contractual apostrophe
Lost: past participle
= ‘The loves that Labour has lost’ (in paraphrase)

It is funny to me, therefore, that the first part of the headline might be read as describing the psycholinguistic “battle” to reclaim the lexicogrammatical meaning of the second half of the clause, “Loves Labour’s Lost”. That such an alteration might be effected with the simple removal of an apostrophe…

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One response

17 02 2009
Alice Kyteler

That really is quite funny and interesting. No, really, I mean it. I too starred at the sentence for some time and tried to work out what it actually meant now that that pesky bit of punctuation was absent. Thankyou for your comment on my blog by the way :)

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