MLP: Resolving Fort Ground(s) dispute

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Let it not be said your Mrs. Language Person rebukes requests.

One Mr. Faulkner Person (he of that blessed breed of grammar enforcers, Oh faithful teachers of English!) did ask, “Should it be ‘Fort Ground’ or ‘Fort Grounds’? S or no S?”

S. But …

Let us begin with the sign posted in that oldest of Coeur d’Alene neighborhoods: Fort Ground. Yes, Dear Readers; that is its name, despite its reference by most locals (including MLP) in plural. A sign at the entrance, residents tell MLP, announces “Fort Ground.” A popular eatery there most properly calls itself “Fort Ground Grill.”

For official confirmation, a resident told your MLP that the homeowners association bylaws refer to it singly, Fort Ground. That is controlling, of course. One defines one’s own name; thus the neighborhood is clearly “Fort Ground.”

Yet … Oxford Dictionaries would disagree, at least in common parlance.

The solid surface of the earth is, naturally, the “ground.” So too is a portion thereof, or land of a specified type:

“She bought the adjoining acre of ground.” “Feet sink in marshy ground.” “Liverpool has a new football ground.”

The singular is also appropriate when “ground” is a modifier (ground flora) or distinguishing adjective (the airline’s ground staff; a ground assault). On that note, pilots and planes can also be “grounded” and ships may “go aground.”

Why then, you may ask, isn’t it fort ground, if it is the ground near the fort? Perhaps it would be, if one were merely descriptively distinguishing it from the beach ground. However, “an area of land or sea used for a specified purpose” requires an S, per Oxford. Thus we say, “fishing grounds” and “fair grounds.”

The same choice of plural holds true for “an area of enclosed land surrounding a large house of other building.” Aha! We have arrived, Dear Readers: “University grounds,” “White House grounds,” and yes, “fort grounds.”

Departing from geography, “ground” and “grounds” also have different meanings. There is the obvious “grounds of coffee,” where grounds refer to small particles forming a residue or sediment.

As a mass noun, ground sometimes means an area of knowledge or subject of discussion, such as “the math class covered more ground this week” or “the study of history is grounded in the past.” Just to further confuse us, sometimes the same meaning is properly plural, when referring to more than one: “He objected on several grounds” and “she has grounds for optimism.”

Mrs. Language Person could go on, grounding a grandchild (geographically-limiting punishment) and breaking ground (do something new); but covering such excessive ground might give grindingly exasperated readers grounds to cut the ground from under her feet.

•••

Mrs. Language Person and Sholeh Patrick are columnists for the Hagadone News Network who are running out of MLP topics after dozens of columns. Send suggestions and linguistic laments to: Sholeh@cdapress.com

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