Karen’s Conundrum – The Apostrophe Catastrophe – REVISITED

The Obsessive Possessive – Part One


“Jesus loves me, this I know …” and because of that, I know all will be forgiven when I revisit “The Obsessive Possessive – Part One” to discuss possessive Jesus, and the Joneses and their possessiveness. Let’s start with Jesus—and then we’ll clear up my Jones faux pas.

If we were to follow the revised CMoS rule (as I cited in my original post)—

 7.16 Possessive of proper nouns, letters, and numbers. “The general rule extends to proper nouns, including names ending in s, x, or z, in both their singular and plural forms, as well as letters and numbers.”

—then possessive Jesus would follow the same form as possessive Jones, and we’d all have Jesus’s blessings as we dove to great depths to find Davy Jones’s locker .

Or so you would be led to believe …

Karen's Conundrum Logo

“You may be wrong but you may be right …”

~Billy Joel

For years, CMoS’s recommendation for Biblical or classical names was to use just the possessive apostrophe. However, in the spirit of consistency and all things being equal, the policy was revised in 2010 as 7.16 quoted above currently states.

Well <pause>, as always <sigh>, there’s an exception. And that exception is that history trumps hard-and-fast rules, and if there’s anyone who holds the history card, it’s Jesus. Historically possessive Jesus has been Jesus’. So even though you say the –ez, even though Rule 7.16 tells me so, Jesus’ story will always be considered correct, as well as Jesus’s story.   And remember, it’s Veterans Day (not Veterans’ or Veterans’s), and why? Because of the history card. Just sayin’.

Oh, yeah, and you remember that locker I told you about in Part One that held the children’s monkey that belonged to the Joneses? Well, that would be the Joneses’ locker that can be found in the Joneses’ basement behind the Joneses’ arsenal of firearms (oh, please end my misery, won’t you?) … not Joneses’s.

“The 50-50-90 rule: anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there’s a 90% probability you’ll get it wrong.”
~Andy Rooney

Keeping with the same topic of the obsessive possessive with proper nouns ending in s, x, or z, and exceptions to the general rule, in an attempt to unclutter a recommendation-ridden Part One post, I originally cited Rule 7.19 only in part. After needing to refer to this rule myself this past week, I realized that I should have included more of the text and given another example or two. So here’s Rule 7.19 in its full glory.

7.19 Possessive of nouns plural in form, singular in meaning.

“When the singular form of a noun ending in “s” is the same as the plural (i.e., the plural is uninflected), the possessives of both are formed by the addition of an apostrophe only. If ambiguity threatens, use “of” to avoid the possessive.

“Politics’ true meaning; economics’ forerunners; this species’ first record (or, better, the first record of this species)

“The same rule applies when the name of a place or an organization or a publication (or the last element in the name) is a plural form ending in ‘s,’ such as the United States, even though the entity is singular.

The United States’ role in international law; Highland Hills’ late mayor”

Or my own personal example to help me remember: General Motors’ trucks have no appeal (I’m a Ford girl).

With that, I think it’s fair to say that the obsessive possessive has gotten more than its fair share of our time. And yet, I have a suspicious feeling that we haven’t heard the last word on this subject.

“As long as the world is turning and spinning, we’re gonna be dizzy and we’re gonna make mistakes.”
~Mel Brooks