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A recent question on EL&U asks Is it correct to use "how's" as short for "how does"? I have a series of tangentially related questions about a fairly common (in American English) phrase usually spelled as "how's about":

  1. Does the spelling "how's about" make sense under normal conventions of punctuation, and (if so) is the "how's" component of the phrase a contraction or a possessive?

  2. If "how's" is a contraction here, what words is it a contraction of?

  3. If "how's" is a possessive here, how might we restate the underlying idea to indicate the possessive aspect of how, without including the apostrophe-s?

  4. If the spelling "how's about" (with an apostrophe) doesn't make complete sense, is there a better way to spell it?

By way of background, I note that Robert L. Chapman & Barbara Ann Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, Third Edition (1996) offer the following entry on "how's about":

how's about prep phr by 1925 What do you feel or think about: How's about a drink? —Budd Schulberg

The first edition of this dictionary (1961) reported that "how's about" means "how about," suggesting that the apostrophe-s is simply an instance of proparalepsis (adding an extra syllable or letters to the end of a word). But even if we attribute the additional sound to proparalepsis, we have not yet explained why orthographically the spelling came out as "how's."

Not surprisingly, an Ngram Viewer graph of Google Books content shows "how's about" as being generally far more common than "hows about," "howsabout," and "howzabout"—three possible alternative spellings.

  • Because how's is a recognizable word and hows is not? – bib Jan 10 '14 at 22:54
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  • @FumbleFingers Yeah, there always that dang nounification pluralification! – bib Jan 10 '14 at 23:09
  • @bib (1): That doesn't stop 'childrens clothing departments' and 'working mens clubs' from being so labelled. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 10 '14 at 23:12
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    Apostrophes are not audible, so a phrase that originates in rapid colloquial speech does not contain any. As to where they should be inserted when one attempts to write the phrase, put'em anywhere you like. That's what everybody else does. – John Lawler Jan 11 '14 at 1:13
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"How's about" in Ireland is usually a snide summary of the Co.Donegal accent.

Hearing it in Donegal means the person is asking how you are. It's a shortening of "How's about ye?" which is a more understandable greeting.

In that context, the apostrophe is representing 'is'. But that's just for one small corner of the world. :)

I would be interested in putting forward the idea that "how about" sounds like a stronger suggestion, however "how's about" is much more open to criticism in a group of people. Maybe it came about purely as an attempt to deformalise the former?

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In the United States using "how's about" is kind of an older east-coast gangster way of speaking. It along with "All's I'm saying..." The apostrophe doesn't mean anything. It only indicates that it's slang.

Think of Ain't. Ai not doesn't mean anything, and ain't is used in place for am not, are not, is not, and even will not.

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    "Ain't" is originally short for "am not"; "amn't" is nearly impossible to say, so it morphed into "ain't". Its usage in place of "isn't" and "aren't" is a different story, but the fact that "ai not" doesn't mean anything... doesn't mean anything. – MT_Head Jan 30 '14 at 1:14
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"How's about" is a phonetic misspelling intended to capture a particular nonstandard pronunciation, specifically of the much more common phrase "how about."

It's neither a contraction nor a possessive, and "hows about" is a perfectly acceptable alternate spelling, since there is no likely mis-pronunciation from omitting the apostrophe. (Of course, since you have already discovered a source documenting the variant with apostrophe intact, you may as well follow suit and leave it in.)

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The first thing to realise is that "How's about" is informal. The only online source I can find is in the Oxford Spanish Dictionary (6">http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/translate/english-spanish/how#how_6), but if you realise that "o" is Spanish for "or", you get the gist.

This implies that the spelling, too, is informal.

How do you reconstruct the full form? Well, this sort of " 's " can stand for three things: "how does", "how has" or "how is". But only the last one makes sense: the other two do not mean anything (try them!), so you might want to spell "How is about". However, this is rather at odds with the informal nature of the expression. If you want to use the formal version, you might like to opt for "How about".

(Note that "How is about" does occasionally occur in writing: http://in.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080914024007AADUNM3, but it seems rather rare.)

  • I think it's a safe bet your link is to a usage by a non-native speaker. I didn't find a single relevant instance in Google Books. – FumbleFingers Jan 11 '14 at 2:53

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