Saturday, January 28, 2012

Oh fine, I'm late again: Twofer #1.

So yes, I suck.  I'm extremely late with last week's post.  In fact, I'm even later with last week's post than I was with the previous week's post.  But I have a good excuse, honest.  I developed shingles late last week; the nice doctor lady gave me nerve pain pills along with an antiviral, and warned me that if I took too many of the pain pills, they would knock me out.  She was right.  I spent about 18 of each 24 hours last weekend sleeping.

On one hand, I guess I needed the sleep.  On the other hand, I'm now extremely late with last week's post.

But fear not, I will make up for it!  I fully intend to post here both today and tomorrow.

For today, I thought I'd tackle a sticky apostrophe issue that's been bugging me.  I'm not going to get into all the rules for apostrophe usage (and all the ways we've all seen the rules broken on grocery store signage and the like [heavy sigh]).  My main concern lately has been the rule about making a noun possessive when the noun in question ends in "s".

Let's say you want to indicate that this chair belongs to Mr. Davies.  I would formulate the phrase thusly:  "Mr. Davies' chair."  Notice how I put only an apostrophe after the name.  To me, "Davies's" sounds awkward.  It strikes me as the same rule as when a Protestant preacher ends his prayer:  "In Jesus' name we pray, amen."  Again, "Jesus's" sounds awkward to me.

But then this other chair, over there, belongs to Mr. Owens.  Would it be "Mr. Owens' chair" or "Mr. Owens's chair"?  Hmm.  "Owens's" doesn't sound as awkward to me, so maybe it's okay.

Our old friends Strunk and White are no help; they tackle the possessive form of singular nouns, but none of the other possible permutations.

So I turned to teh intarwebz -- and discovered that in this case, there's no right answer.  There's some agreement on Jesus (and Moses, who's in the same boat):  archaic names ending in "s" get just an apostrophe, usually.  But past that, all bets are off.  Finally, I found a blog post by Grammar Girl (whose blog I've now bookmarked!) that says it's a style issue.  She also says Associated Press style is to leave off the "s".  Which explains why "Owens' chair" feels as right to me as "Davies' chair":  my journalistic past is coming back to haunt me once again.

Speaking of my journalistic past, I thought I'd wrap up this post with one of Merv Block's Top Tips of the Trade.  This one is number 7:  Have the courage to write simply.  In other words, don't feel as though you need to dress up your ideas with high falutin' language or complex sentence construction in order to make an impact.  Some of the most powerful sentences in the English language use the simplest possible construction.

Want an example?  Here you go:  Having shingles sucks.

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