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Old 09-22-2007, 10:37 AM   #1
ktinkel
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Default Possessive apostrophes

I see that William Safire in his Sept. 23 “On Language” column in the New York Times (scroll down) is addressing the problem that often seems to arise when a name ending in s — Starbucks, say — needs to possess something.

A Georgetown University professor wrote in, quoting from a pamphlet with the phrase “Starbucks commitment to social responsibility,” prompting Safire to address this unfortunately common error (one that really annoys me).

It should be “Starbucks’s commitment,” of course. Many people think it sounds funny (Starbucks-zzz, as Safire puts it), but it is still correct.

Evidently the British do not have this problem. Safire says they instruct every newly appointed American ambassador to the Court of St. James’s to pronounce it as James-zzz.

   
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Old 09-22-2007, 11:46 AM   #2
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KT:

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Evidently the British do not have this problem. Safire says they instruct every newly appointed American ambassador to the Court of St. James’s to pronounce it as James-zzz.
There would be nothing wrong with the pronunciation, but it’s either the Court of St James or St James’s Court (though only the first is correct). One either says ‘of St James’ or ‘St James’s’, at least, in modern English.

There is a convention that only an apostrophe is set after an s, but there’s another convention that says the first is correct only after classical or biblical names, thus ‘Jesus' disciples’ but ‘St James’s followers’.

   
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Old 09-22-2007, 12:04 PM   #3
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There is a convention that only an apostrophe is set after an s, but there’s another convention that says the first is correct only after classical or biblical names, thus ‘Jesus' disciples’ but ‘St James’s followers’.
I agree completely on the Court -- the guider is wrong!

I only remember the Jones' rule in the UK ....

   
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Old 09-22-2007, 12:10 PM   #4
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I only remember the Jones' rule in the UK ....
What is the Jones’ rule?

Here, despite our aversion to extra syllables, the common expression is “keeping up with the Joneses.”

For a possessive, the Joneses’s house would be correct, though kind of bulky.

   
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Old 09-22-2007, 02:18 PM   #5
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KT:

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What is the Jones’ rule?
The convention I gave first, viz that you don't write apostrophe-s after a word ending in s: Jones' cow, not Jones's cow. It's not universally followed though, hence St James's court. (I don't know what they do there, because actually the Queen receives ambassadors formally, when they first arrive, at Buckingham Palace, where she usually lives.)

   
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Old 09-22-2007, 02:31 PM   #6
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The convention I gave first, viz that you don't write apostrophe-s after a word ending in s: Jones' cow, not Jones's cow. It's not universally followed though, hence St James's court.
Leaving off the s after s-apostrophe is how I learned it - ...s's looks funny to me.

   
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Old 09-22-2007, 02:35 PM   #7
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English is a flexible language and I think Safire is entertaining but frequently a language curmudgeon.

In this case, I would say that the Georgetown prof is probably "wrong" in that it's non-standard to drop the apostrophe completely. In plural, the rule is typically to add the apostrophe after the s, but in the case of Jones and Starbucks, they're aren't plural but simply words that end in s. I would leave it up to the editor's or publisher's style preferences. My Turabian Fifth says Jones's, Stevens's, and Kinross's but makes the exception for Jesus, Moses, and Greek or hellenized names that end in es such as Xerxes, Aristophanes, so you end up with Jesus', Moses', and Xerxes', and Aristophanes' as possessives. This all seems pretty reasonable, and agrees with Safire and my MLA 2nd ed.

However, what is right on paper (or screen) is not the way that it sounds good or natural aloud. I think most people who might say Starbucks's would be laughed at should it come out in conversation. It certainly isn't euphonious to my ears, even if it is correct.

As far as KT's Joneses's being correct, that disagrees with both Turabian and MLA. They say it's Joneses'.

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Old 09-22-2007, 03:15 PM   #8
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Carl:

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They say it's Joneses'
You're probably mixing two idioms here: the expression is 'keeping up with the Joneses', meaning Mr Jones's family (or Mr Jones' family, if you prefer).

Who is Turabian? Is he the American Fowler, so to speak?

   
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Old 09-22-2007, 03:25 PM   #9
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You're probably mixing two idioms here: the expression is 'keeping up with the Joneses', meaning Mr Jones's family (or Mr Jones' family, if you prefer).
I think that's exactly the way I was reading it. It's Mr. Jones's family, but in the case of "keeping up with the Joneses," the possessive of Joneses would be Joneses' as opposed to Joneses's. So, the way I read it you might write "Keeping up with the Joneses' way of doing things" as opposed to "Keeping up with the Joneses's way of doing things." But either way, I don't think this comes up that often, and if you do, only the die-hard cranks are going to gripe about it if you pick one way or the other and do it that way.

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Who is Turabian? Is he the American Fowler, so to speak?
I don't know who Fowler is, so I can't speak to that. Turabian writes a style book published by University of Chicago Press called A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. It's a sort of abbreviated version of The Chicago Manual of Style. It is focused on academic writing, but the rules are essentially the same as Chicago.

Carl

PS, after poking around, I found that Fowler is probably closer to Chicago Manual in terms of what it represents. Turabian is a sort of a subset or specialized version that uses its rules. So if there's some sort of guide that is based on Fowler out there that has some sort of generally recognized authority, that's what Turabian would be.

Last edited by CarlSeiler; 09-22-2007 at 03:28 PM. Reason: Added PS
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Old 09-22-2007, 03:32 PM   #10
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PS, after poking around, I found that Fowler is probably closer to Chicago Manual in terms of what it represents. Turabian is a sort of a subset or specialized version that uses its rules. So if there's some sort of guide that is based on Fowler out there that has some sort of generally recognized authority, that's what Turabian would be.
After reading more, I'm thinking Fowler may be closer to Strunk and White than Chicago and Turabian.
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