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Who's in jail in Kiev?

Buck's English looks at possessives
BY GENE OWENS Published: May 21, 2012

James Clark, of Ardmore, called for clarification on an Associated Press story about Yulia Tymoshenko, former prime minister of Ukraine, who was jailed after losing her political post.

Mrs. Tymoshenko went on a hunger strike at her prison in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, after claiming she was beaten and otherwise mistreated.

“Oleksandr Tymoshenko, the jailed opposition leader's husband, told the AP ... that he believes the Ukrainian government is slowly killing his wife,” read the AP report in the Swayback Daily Kick.

“Who's in jail in Kiev?” asked Jim, as Buck gapped his sparkplugs at Curly's Soonerco.

The ordinary reader would conclude, from the context, that Yulia was in jail while her loyal husband, Oleksandr, spoke in her behalf from the outside. But Jim Clarke is no ordinary reader, and he spotted the ambiguity.

You could read that sentence to mean “Oleksandr, the husband of the jailed opposition leader,” or “Oleksandr, the jailed husband of the opposition leader.”

Conveniently, the English language gives us two ways of expressing possession.

One is to use the preposition “of.” The other is to use the apostrophe followed by an “s.”

So to clear up the ambiguity, Buck would have written, “Oleksandr Tymoshenko, the husband of the jailed opposition leader ... ”

“Why didn't they put the husband in jail, too?” asked Gopher.

“The Czechs granted him asylum, and he fled to Prague,” said Buck.

“Too bad Yulia doesn't play chess,” said Floyd. “She'd have a Czech mate.”

Send questions for Buck to Gene Owens, 104 Belspring Lane, Anderson, SC 29621, or email him at Please let Buck know what town you're from.


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