Tuesday, September 25, 2007

About an apostrophe

Last night after coming home exhausted from the second of two jobs (and I'm straining myself with the effort of not discussing either of them here), I finished off the last few pages of Bridget Jones's Diary before falling asleep.

So many women adore that book, including some of my friends, who say, "She's just like me!" or, "I'm just like her!" or, "I do exactly the same things!"

Everyone's neurotic, sure, but that's Bridget's only real characteristic. I'd like to take this opportunity to tell my friends that whether they do or do not obsessively, illogically, and inaccurately count calories, they are each of them more interesting than Bridget Jones. They are interested in things like literature, baseball, football, nerd conventions, astronomy, politics, charitable activities, and so on. My former roommate (confirmed bipolar and possibly borderline sociopath) is like Bridget Jones.

But that's not what this post is about. You see, it's about the title: Bridget Jones's Diary.

1. It's italicized, not in quotes. You place the titles of longer works in italics and of shorter works (like a song or a TV episode) in quotes.

2. The apostrophe is correct as written. Jones's. I see far too often that people flinch in the face of singular possessive with a noun ending in an -s. Stop being so gunshy, people! It is not "Jones'." That construction would never happen. If there were more than one Jones, it would be "Joneses'." Our singular (or singleton) Jones gets an apostrophe-s at the end of her name.

In short, I am going to borrow Hans's motorbike, put a hook through the bass's mouth, and remember the lovely caress's feel.

True, language changes. I don't mind that. But let it change as it needs to: adopt new phrases, welcome new vocabulary, and entertain new constructions. Language should evolve because we use it to describe a changing world and changing circumstances.

It should not change because people are too lazy or, dare I say it, dumb to understand an extremely basic rule of grammar.

Grammar rules are there because good writing is polite. Good punctuation is a courtesy, making it easy for me to understand what on earth you're trying to say. If you can learn which fork to use first at the table (it's the one on the outside, folks), then you can fix that silliness with the apostrophes.

Disclaimer: This post was written by the former assistant editor of a national magazine, someone who enjoyed full lunch breaks of shared rants about the proper uses of a comma with her colleagues. She's become necessarily passionate about these things.


Caroline said...

I've heard that the only name that shouldn't have 's is Jesus. Is this true? And if so, why? Would that be true of every Jesus or just of the Bible's? If just of the Bible's, why? Do important names that end in an -s in other religions get that exception too?

(Disclaimer: I have no idea if there are any names in other religions that are of the same importance that Jesus is in Christianity. I know that sentence doesn't make sense, but I've thoroughly confused myself with my comment and must now force myself to stop.)

Caroline said...

Oh, and I liked your post. Have you read Eats, Shoots & Leaves? I loved it.

Cobbalicious said...

I have read Eats, Shoots and Leaves (and thank you for italicizing it!). In fact, I did an interview with the author, Lynne Truss. You can find it here:


And while I'm certainly a fan of Jesus (or, one might say, one of Jesus's fans), I have no clue why one should keep all apostrophes away from our Lord and Savior. That would imply that apostrophes are somehow impure or immoral. Even if they were, Jesus hung out with lepers and invited tax collectors over for dinner. Surely Jesus would have no problem with an apostrophe by his name.

(But only if it's used correctly. If not, then you're damned to another ten years in hell.)

Caroline said...

I went and read your interview. :)

Thanks for answering my questions!

Kara said...

I love parsing the English language. It is so much fun!