Wednesday, August 31, 2011

And You Thought Your Job was Tedious

I've always felt sorry for Jimmy Buffet. Sure, he gets to spend most of his life wearing Hawaiian shirts, strumming his six-string for half-drunk tourists, and generally being the exemplar of the middle-aged laid back surfer dude. But you just know that in every single gig he performs, he's not getting off the stage until he sings that song. How sick he must be of it. How does he even pretend to want to do it again?

Then I read about this guy in an AP wire story today:

NEW YORK — Saturday night's performance of "The Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway will be perhaps most memorable for someone who's seen the show a lot.
It will be the last one for actor George Lee Andrews, who will have wrapped up his 9,382nd show over 23 years. The show helped him capture the Guinness World Records title for the most performances in the same Broadway show.
Producers revealed this week that 68-year-old Andrews would not be continuing in the role of Monsieur Andre. Aaron Galligan-Stierle, who is Andrew's son-in-law, will take over the part beginning Sept. 5.
I don't know--I saw "The Phantom of the Opera" once, and that seemed plenty for me. This guy must be seeing flying chandeliers in his sleep.

The error here comes in the final sentence, and it raises an issue that always gives me the heebie-jeebies: how to possessive-ize a name ending in S. I know it should be simple, but this is one of those situations where (metaphorically speaking, anyway) I just mumble into my hand and avoid eye contact and hope nobody presses the point.

Strunk and White have a clear opinion on this--in fact, it is the first rule in the "little book": "Form the possessive singular of the noun by adding 's." It's "Charles's friend" and Burns's poems" they say with characteristic assuredness. (And yet, somewhat curiously, they make exceptions for "ancient possessive names ending in -es and -is," and for Jesus. So it would be "Jesus' iPod," for Christ's sake. That guy gets all the special breaks.)

But it's not really that simple. If you believe this source (and come on, it's on the Internet--why wouldn't you?) it's "Arkansas's former governor" but "Alexander Dumas' first novel." It's "the Smiths' car" but "the Joneses' home." But is it "the boss' memo" or "the boss's memo"? (Or what about "the bosses's memo"?) At this point, let's admit it, we just want to leave it for the intern and go get something to eat.

In any case, in the example above, the iron-man actor's surname is Andrews--which means that most people would form the possessive thusly: Andrews'. Some counter-culture goth types might argue for Andrews's, even at the risk of sounding like Homer Simpson referring to his neighbors as "the Flanderseseses." But no civilized person in possession of their possessive faculties could possibly justify rendering it Andrew's.