Sunday, 25 August 2013

Arguably Apostrophic

A debate on possessives and apostrophes was sparked by a book project, which I assumed was because of aesthetics.

Barring some circumstances, the apostrophe-S is generally placed in front of nouns ending with "S" to denote that they own whatever that follows, e.g. "Charles's apples" or "Hermès's summer collection".

For some situations, the Americans have largely done away with the "S" after the apostrophe, but the Chicago Manual of Style is okay with either "Dickens' novel" or "Dickens's novel", though they prefer the latter.

Online comic The Oatmeal has a simpler, more concise guide to apostrophe usage. It's okay with both.

However, Strunk and White say 'ancient' names such as Jesus and Moses don't need the "S". While "Jesus' home" is fine, you can write it as "the home of Jesus" if you think the former is harder to pronounce. Maybe Hermès qualifies as well. Other situations where the apostrophe-S can be omitted is when it makes something hard to read out loud.

I never liked the tendency to simplify everything for the sake of 'efficiency'. Coding web pages that only look fine on Internet Explorer back in the day meant not having to strictly adhere to W3C standards, but it made programmers and designers sloppy. Same goes for copy editors.

In the end, when standards are all over the place, you gotta have a style guide to refer to. Pick a set of conventions for proofing copy and stick to them.

I much prefer the apostrophe-S. Cumbersome as it is, at least it implies that "Charles" or "Hermès" are not plural forms of "Charle" or "Hermè".


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