That's a question that crosses my mind after reading this Language Log discussion of the trend away from using "of" and toward using the possessive "-s" in phrases where there is no living entity to do the possessing. There's a nice graph at the link showing this historical progression in the State of the Union Address, which I guess some day will be called the Union's State Address.
Language Log did not use the phrases America's United States or the Union's State Address. Those are my comic projections into the future based on the discussion of the tendency to say things like "some of America's leading foundations and corporations" instead of "some of the leading foundations and corporations of America." But there are many examples — I went looking for them — of the continued use of the "of" formation, including one in the sentence from which I extracted "some of America's leading foundations and corporations":
And I'm reaching out to some of America's leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.Sometimes the 's feels right and sometimes we know it's wrong. Maybe you'll laugh — or get mad at me — when I point out that President Obama did not say "color's young men." But it makes you think: What do we believe we are saying when we use the possessive with inanimate things?
I found a few other possessive phrases from the 2014 SOTU that retain the old "of" structure and that seem weird converted into 's form.
1. "After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth." Rephrased: "After grit and determined effort's five years, the United States is better-positioned..."
2. "Let's make this a year of action." Rephrased: "Let's make this action's year."
3. "[O]ur success should depend not on accident of birth but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams." Rephrased: "[O]ur success should depend not on birth's accident... but our work ethic's strength and our dream's scope."
4. "The best measure of opportunity is access to a good job." Rephrased: "Opportunity's best measure is access to a good job." (Or if there's a larger trend away from prepositional phrases: "Opportunity's best measure is good job access.")
5. "[I]nvest more in fuels of the future...." Rephrased: "[I]nvest more in the future's fuels."
6. "And in case you haven't heard, we're in the process of fixing that." Rephrased: "And in case you haven't heard, we're in fixing that's process."
7. "Citizenship demands a sense of common purpose; participation in the hard work of self-government...." Rephrased: "Citizenship demands a common purpose's sense; participation in self-government's hard work..."
8. "[W]e have... placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress: to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement...." Rephrased: "[W]e have... placed our collective shoulder to progress's wheel: to create and build and expand individual achievement's possibilities...."
Some of those are more bizarre than others, and when they are bizarre, perhaps it's because the speechwriter didn't have a concrete picture of X possessing Y in the formation Y of X. The rephrasing could be a useful device for coming up with a third way of saying it — saying its third way?! — that makes more sense. I think we tend to use these long "of" phrases when we're cramming a lot of material into one sentence or affecting a tone of grandeur.
Hmm. Cramming material's lot and affecting grandeur's tone?!
There are a number of strange things going on here — strange things' number! — and now that I've seen this, I'm intrigued and want to keep noticing these constructions and restating them for purposes of examination — for examination's purpose! — and I'm simultaneously inclined to scurry back to just talking the way that feels natural, because this is the kind of stuff that drives you crazy. This is the stuff's kind that drives you crazy.