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Milk from goats is available in supermarkets. On the shelves of our local store in England, I have found cartons boldly labelled all three of

  • Goats Milk
  • Goat's Milk
  • Goats' Milk

Most brands use no apostrophe at all, which does not seem right. Brands which use "Goat's" seem to imply that the milk comes from precisely one goat, which seems unlikely. Brands which use "Goats'" may have it right; however, every molecule of milk in the carton did, originally, come from precisely one goat, a molecule of a goat's milk.

Is there any hope of finding a "correct" position for the apostrophe in this case? Must we forever live with this example of the greengrocers [sic] apostrophe?

  • 2
    +1 for 'greengrocers [sic] apostrophe'. Keep in mind that often people use the animal's name as a noun adjunct: i.e. one is likely to see both cow milk and cows' milk. I find the latter to be more eloquent, but I don't think that grocers have eloquence at the forefront of their minds. – Anonym Feb 26 '14 at 17:34
  • Desperate Dan, in the Beano, used to eat 'Cow Pie' which always had horns emerging from the crust. If goats' milk takes a possessive apostrophe, should DD not have had 'cows' pie'. (If it was good quality beef, it wouldn't have been from a cow anyway, but a bullock, but that's a discussion for another day.) – WS2 Feb 26 '14 at 17:41
  • This is an example of why I want to abolish the apostrophe. In the real English language that we speak, this is a non-question, because there are no apostrophes. Only when we want to write it down do the arbitrary rules of spelling require us to invent a distinction which is not there. – Colin Fine Feb 26 '14 at 18:08
  • Ah, Desperate Dan, I remember him well! I don't recall, however, worrying about apostrophes when I used to read The Dandy regularly. The milk in the supermarket definitely once belonged to a goat, but Dan's pies never belonged to a cow. A pie made of cows' meat, perhaps, but not a cow's (or cows') pie, I think. But, a good point! Thanks! – emrys57 Feb 26 '14 at 18:09
  • possible duplicate of How to write "calf's liver" on menu – FumbleFingers Feb 26 '14 at 18:58
2

I think it's useful to substitute "child" and "painting" because child is a word where the plurals and possessive forms are more obviously different.

What would be the correct label for a picture drawn by several kids?

  1. Children Picture
  2. Child's Picture
  3. Children's Picture

I think the third - the possessive plural. This suggests that "Goats' Milk" is the correct label for the milk.

  • 3
    I can't quite articulate why I find this answer unsatisfying: the answer is obviously correct in the normal sense. I think the case in question, however differs subtly in that goat milk referred to in the context is a commodity which allows it to resist the application of an apostrophe. The OP hints at this in his/her observation that many packagers label it without using an apostrophe. Sort of a phrasal singular noun which contains a group/plural. It may even be regulatory. – horatio Feb 26 '14 at 17:40
  • I'd say "Goat Milk" was acceptable, however this wasn't one of the three options mentioned in the question. That having been said the analogous "Cat Milk" (at least in the UK) refers to milk designed for the consumption of cats. – tobyink Feb 26 '14 at 20:03
  • Surely the milk of a mother cat would also be designed for the consumption of cats...her kittens. – Oldcat Feb 26 '14 at 22:22
  • This is a nice insight and a neat trick to remember. "Children's Picture" is clearly right, despite each brush-stroke having been made by only one child. My point, that each molecule came from just one goat, is not relevant. Either "Goat Milk" or "Goats' Milk" make sense, but Tobyink wins the prize for the use of the irregular plural. Thanks! – emrys57 Feb 27 '14 at 8:26
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    What about "child's play"?? – Hot Licks Jun 1 '15 at 0:31
5

Why not simply say "goat milk"?

  • 1
    I agree. It seems short for "milk of the goat". – Metro Feb 26 '14 at 22:30
3

David Marsh - Production Editor at the Guardian newspaper and contributor to that paper's "Mind Your Language" column - would prefer "Goat's Milk". Here is his rationale:

Phrases such as butcher's hook, collector's item, cow's milk, goat's cheese and writer's cramp are best treated as singular. We either don't know or don't care whether one cow, or many, are involved.

That, to me, is not an example of sound reasoning: we may well care, and in the case of industrially processed milk from any but the smallest dairy we can also be pretty sure, that more than one animal was involved in producing the contents of any given container of milk that has reached a retail shelf. Nevertheless, it is a considered view from a reasonable professional.

I agree with @tobyink that "Goats' Milk" is the most comprehensible of the three options, for the reasons he gives.

In answer to your actual question, it is clear that reasonable people can disagree about where to place this apostrophe, and therefore it seems unlikely that consistency will emerge.

  • How many Achilleses are involved (directly) in someone's Achilles tendons or Achilles' heels? (I believe those are the forms commonly used: {Google Ngrams}) – Edwin Ashworth Oct 15 '16 at 16:46

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