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February 20, 2004



I don't think attaching "'s" to the names of stores is limited to restaurants. Everybody here calls JC Penney "JC Penney's" or just "Penney's" - in fact, calling it "JC Penney" sounds very weird. In the hick town where my mom teaches, everyone calls Wal-Mart "Wal-Mart's."

Neal Whitman

There's a chain of grocery stores (I believe nationwide, but not sure) named Kroger, but here in central Ohio, most people call it "Kroger's."


"and this seems to be limited entirely to restaurants"

There is a similar custom here when referring to Myer stores e.g. "You should be able to find one at Myer's." I've always thought of this as being short for "Myer's Emporium" despite the fact that it was originally named "Myer Emporium Ltd".
For restaurants, I assume that "Prego's" is a shorthand convention for "Prego's restaurant", just as "Rick's" was short for "Rick's Cafe Americain".
In my experience this economy of words is not limited to restaurants and has been common practice for any store that has become sufficiently well known whether it sells breakfast or jewelry.


A relative of mine once started a restaurant called Jeanie Dean's, after the literary character. He deliberately put in the apostrophe, to prevent people from referring to it as "Jeanie Deanziz." This was 20 years ago, so it looks like this possessing tendency established and known to the industry.

Semantic Compositions

In order:

Rachel and Virge, thanks for introducing me to cases where it's not used for restaurants. I'll speculate -- I have nothing but anecdotal evidence -- that the usage may be regional, and that in some places it's more widely applicable than in others.

Neal: Out here in California, Kroger is called Ralph's. The other major grocery chains (Von's, Albertson's) also end in possessives. As for smaller chains, I can also think of Bristol Farms and Whole Foods, both of which probably preclude the possessive from being applied for phonological reasons.

As for Virge's comment: "I assume that "Prego's" is a shorthand convention for "Prego's restaurant", just as "Rick's" was short for "Rick's Cafe Americain"."

That's precisely my point. The place isn't actually named Prego's restaurant. In Casablanca, Rick's was actually named Rick's. The convention seems to be that a proper name is assumed to be the owner's name, and therefore that the possessive is an appropriate shorthand -- even when that's not actually the case.

Qov: Fascinating anecdote. I'm surprised that someone would consciously try to deter this sort of affixation. I wonder if restaurant owners are sitting on marketing research that shows that when people go to the phone book, they look for the shortened, possessive name, which might not be where you want it. In that case, people might go looking for "Jeannie's" otherwise, and then give up when they don't find it.

language hat

That's precisely my point.

It's not what I understood your point to be. If you meant that people take names of stores to be those of their owners, and thus say "Spago's" as if it were "Rick's" (which is my analysis as well), why were you talking about generics? Whether there is one or many is irrelevant under this interpretation.

Semantic Compositions

The generic issue is related to the ownership issue because the interpretation is doubly wrong.

If I say, "There's a Prego around the corner", and there's only one Prego, then at the very least, I've violated one of Grice's maxims about being informative, because the statement is misleading. I'm not sure that the statement is actually false from a truth-conditional standpoint, but it's pragmatically bad.

If I say, "There's a Prego's around the corner", then not only have I violated the same pragmatic condition as before, but I've also ascribed a property to the place which doesn't exist, namely the existence of an owner named Prego.

It's possible to separate the two cases; I can conceive of someone also saying "Prego's is around the corner", which makes the possessive error independent of the generic. However, to the extent that I've paid attention to this behavior, I've only noticed that they occur together, and don't happen independently.


But, hmmm. Around here we occasionally go to Uno's (the proper name of which is "Pizzeria Uno" without the possessive), but I don't think we'd ever say "Let's go to Pizzeria Uno's." Something about the shortened name? (I can't imagine saying "Let's order Pizza Hut's." Or "I don't feel like McDonald's; let's go to Burger King's." Or "Subway's.")

Plenty of other local restaurants--Namaskar and Diva (both Indian), for instance--never pick up the possessive either. But I don't think I've ever believed that somewhere out there is a man named Antonio Uno who opened a pizza place; I'm more likely to believe that there's a Rajesh Namaskar. ("Namaskar" is apparently a respectful Hindu greeting, or so says their website.) So there's certainly no attempt to suggest actual ownership. (I suppose no one believes that there's a John "Kentucky" Fried who founded KFC', KFC.)

I'd suppose that's it a sort of hypercorrection: there are enough restaurants with the apostrophe, from McDonald's and Domino's and Arby's through Applebee's and Chili's up to Elaine's and Sardi's (and, of course, Rick's) that one simply gets accustomed to adding the "-s" to the names of restaurants. And, yes, of other retailers (Macy's, Saks--no apostrophe, but the same sound--and thus JC Penney's. And Nordstrom's.)

But why some and not others? Why never Pizza Hut's, Subway's, Waffle House's? Why, in spite of the existence of Shaw's supermarket and in spite of the attested but incorrect Kroger's, do people in Boston say "Pick up some milk at the Star" but not " the Star's"? Is there some sort of "it must sound like a name" restriction, and if so, why does "Uno" sound like a name where "Namaskar" does not?

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