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A stone's throw

Posted by Smokey Stover on May 22, 2009 at 03:38

In Reply to: A stone's throw posted by David FG on May 21, 2009 at 17:04:

: : : : I have always been curious as to the origin of "A stone's throw", and appreciate the forum answers to this as being "a short distance" as in a "throw of a stone". But my question is why the apostrophe is used to make the throw possesive to the stone. Shouldn't it be "a stone throw" instead? After all, we don't say it's "a chip's shot" in golf, or a "short's walk" from here, etc.

: : :
: : : But the difference is that in your two examples, 'chip' and 'short' are adjectives.

: : : In 'a stone's throw', 'stone' is a noun. It is a throw of the stone.

: : : DFG

: : ["School days," "choir practice," "tennis match" - the first word in each of these pairs is a NOUN OF ATTRIBUTION, that is, it functions as an adjective: it says WHAT KIND OF days or practice or match; it attributes a generalized quality. But in these other pairs - "a stone's throw," "an hour's time," "a moment's notice" - the first noun SPECIFIES throw or time or notice; it answers the question "---of what?" ... and hence the possessive apostrophe.

: : [We make an exception for "chip shot" - a term of art coined by golfers for their own use. If a strict grammarian had been present at the creation he might have called it a chipping shot; but the grammarian wasn't originally consulted, and it isn't proper for him to come trailing after, second-guessing a natural usage already both functional and vivid. - Bac.]

: I am no golfer, so I am conscious that I am on shaky ground here, but wouldn't it be a 'chipped' shot?


I'm sure we could make up a long list of attributives that are syntactical anarchists, like "chip shot." Henry Fowler, in his Dictionary of Modern English Usage, comments here and there about common English expressions that make no sense whatever, grammatically. And yet we use them, and make up more.