Miss Manners, Meet Mr. Punctuation

Did you know they still make “Miss Manners” books? The copy I’ve been looking through (for work, thank you very much; my manners are just fine) is dated 2005, and the internet claims you can get a more recent revision as well. If the cover is to be believed, the book will make you not merely correct, but excruciatingly correct:

Only problem being, the cover itself is less than excruciatingly correct.

Now, this is a thorny issue we’re about to wade into here. There are differing schools of thought. But in general, most editors would agree that the proper punctuation for that title is “Miss Manners’s Guide,” with an apostrophe and a second S, not “Miss Manners’ Guide” with the apostrophe alone.

It’s actually Rule #1 of Strunk’s “Elementary Rules of Usage” in The Elements of Style:

Form the possessive singular of nouns with ‘s. Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write:

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

Interestingly, Strunk makes exceptions for “the possessives of ancient proper names in -es and -is, the possessive Jesus’, and such forms as for conscience’ sake, for righteousness’ sake. He recommends switching them to the “of” construction, however, as in “the law of Moses,” etc.

Now, Strunk’s hardly the last word on the subject. But most editors and writers since him have followed the same default: that all possessive singular nouns take an ‘s ending regardless of their spelling, with various people making various exceptions for old, oddly-spelled, or otherwise funky nouns.

And you know what? Ordinarily I wouldn’t even think twice about it. It only jumped out at me because this is supposed to be an excruciatingly correct guide. I expect better of Miss Manners. (Then again, Miss Manners doubtlessly expects better of me, and would remind you, Gentle Reader, that it is not polite to point out another person’s minor errors in public; to which I can only say that Miss Manners has clearly not read the archives.)

I would introduce her to Mr. Period, but Miss Manners may not be quite ready for Penny Arcade yet.

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