Monday, August 04, 2008

Meekings's or Meekings'

In a previous blog entry I used the possessive form – “Sam Meekings’s book.” I hated the sound of that and could hardly bear to write it. I notice that Matt went for “Sam Meekings’ book” in his comment.

Strunk and White open their book on English style with the injunction:

1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s.

Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write,

Charles’s friend
Burns’s poems
the witch’s malice

Exceptions are the possessives of ancient proper names ending in -es and –is, the possessive Jesus’, and such forms as for conscience’ sake

However, English isn’t a static language. Increasingly, I see people using the apostrophe without an added –s with words which end on the letter –s. Are we leaving the awful sound of Meekings’s behind forever? In many ways, I hope so.

I know some people will throw up their arms and say, “Who cares! Lighten up!” Well, I care…


Matt Merritt said...

Hmm, it's a tricky one, isn't it? There are some names with which I'd use s's, but I'd be at a loss to explain why. Which probably just makes me lazy and slapdash.

Andrew Philip said...

For what it's worth, Scottish Parliament official report house style is s's in all cases, though I agree that it can be clumsy.

Anonymous said...

Strictly speaking, Strunk & White is correct, so: Yeats's, Keats's, Hughes's, Prince Charles's, etc.

But then I've noticed a move towards Prince Charles' in the papers over the past ten years, which I guess will be down to house style, and that move towards a de-cluttering (as it's perceived) of language over time.

I'd be inclined to make exceptions with the rule in mind ... and I think Meekings's sounds odd enough, and close enough to the unwanted Jesus's, to take an s-apostrophe instead.


Anonymous said...

And former students of mine will have (I hope) fond memories of the conundrum concerning Greggs the bakers. Not to mention The Rams Head.

Don't get me started on shop signs.


Tony Williams said...

I'm a hardline s's man. Yu dont start spelling other words rongly just becoz they look odd, du yu?

It's hard enough buying a bag of potatoe's as it is without changing the goalposts again.

Roddy said...

"move towards a de-cluttering (as it's perceived)"

Do you mean a 'move toward decluttering as its perceived' Andy?

Anonymous said...

Possib-ly :-)


Andrew Shields said...

My last name leads me to confront this issue semi-regularly, and I can't stand "Andrew Shields' poem"! Give me the s's form every time.

But then I wonder about something like "Rene Descartes's philosophy," which looks very clumsy, even though the s before the apostrophe is silent.

Roddy said...

Thing is I would never say 'Andrew Shields's poem' (as in sheeld-ziz), but Shields' (as in sheeldz).

Anonymous said...

I just got .. um .. the Meekings book today.


Rob said...

Y'know, I was sure that we'd manage to settle this issue once for all on this blog (heh heh) and I've not been disappointed.

Yannis Ritsos's sound is vying with Dennis Roussos's. Who will win?