too much typing—since 2003


g33x'(?) d3l19h+

Over at his Flickr site, a friend of mine (hi D.!) referred to "the Red Sox' closer" in the caption of one of his pictures.

My inner proofreader nearly had a coronary. No, "x-apostrophe" is not a legitimate formation, I commented. He disagreed, saying he'd found style guides to support his view. Anyway, rather than continue the back-and-forth in his Flickr site's comments area, I decided to let it go.

But my geeky brain wouldn't let it go, it seems, since the notion popped into my head again today. So I had to resolve it.

First, some logic. As I pointed out, if a bare apostrophe tacked onto an irregular plural noun (a plural noun not ending in -s) is sufficient to convey possession, then why not alumni'? Pronunciation is no guide - because while some people might pronounce the (singular) possessive of Jones as "joanz," others might render it "joan-ziz."

Anyway, enough speculation (and we'll leave for another time whether team names like "Utah Jazz" and "Miami Heat" take singular or plural verbs: both teams' official sites, FWIW, use plural verbs). What do the style guides say?

Chicago: sec. 7.17: "The possessive of most singular nouns is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s, and the possessive of plural nouns (except for a few irregular plurals that do not end in s [my emphasis]) by adding an apostrophe only."
7.18: "The general rule covers most proper nouns, including names ending in s, x, or z, in both their singular and plural forms, as well as letters and numbers." (ex. "Marx's theories")

MLA: MLA Handbook sec. 2.2.7c (1999 ed. - but the MLA's website, listing changes in the Handbook's most recent (2003) edition, says nothing about this section): "To form the possessive of an irregular plural noun not ending in s, add an apostrophe and an s."*

APA (quoted online here): "add 's to the plural forms that do not end in –s."

Moving on from the academy: from the AP Stylebook's "Ask the Editor" (curiously, using the exact word D. used): "AP style is to use the apostrophe in the possessive Red Sox's."

I think this is settled.

I've also seen people use x' with singular nouns: "Fort Knox' security." This is, clearly, insane. If "sounds like an s or z" is an acceptable criterion for omitting the s, that would legitimate adze', chance', or even (rendered as a proper noun, say, the name of a bar) Deliquesce'.

Any copy-editors wish to weigh in?

* MLA actually complicates the issue, or at least it did in the '99 edition: 2.2.7f obtusely says only, "To form the possessive of a plural proper noun, add only an apostrophe." The examples it offers are "Vanderbilts' estate" and "Dickenses' economic woes." Uh...but what if that "plural proper noun" does not end in an -s? What if I were idiotic enough to name my bar-trivia team "the Phenomena": does this imply that the possessive of this now-properized plural noun is Phenomena'? Pretty clearly, someone was lazy at the editing desk, and the proviso "that ends in -s" should have been added after "plural proper noun," in order to prevent 2.2.7f from directly contradicting 2.2.7c...since "plural noun" as a category includes "plural proper noun" as a subset.


kitty florey said...

I honestly can't see why you wouldn't just write Knox's. Why is this an exception? It seems pretty straightforward -- so straightforward, in fact, that Chicago doesn't even cover it. (Though they do say -- CMS 5.26 -- that a word ending in a sibilant is no exception to the apostrophe-s rule.)

Hope this helps. And yep, I'm a copy editor.

kitty florey said...

Whoops -- sorry. I was sent this and read only the last few lines of the original post. Yes, Chicago does indeed cover it. And yes, it's still really a very simple issue....

2fs said...

I thought it was, too - but I know two or three very literate folks, who are also quite detail-oriented on these matters, who thought differently.