Posted by: chuckbumgardner | November 22, 2012

It’s a Conspiracy, I Tell You! The Possessive Apostrophe with “Jesus.”

Grammar nerd alert!

I still remember learning that the name “Jesus” (and as I later learned, “Moses”) merely took an apostrophe at the end to become possessive, as opposed to the typical apostrophe-s (‘s), due to the multiple repetition of the “s” sound.  So, proper form was Jesus’ instead of Jesus’s.  Interestingly, at least one grammar book I studied many years ago indicated that “Jesus” and “Moses” were pretty much the only exceptions to the general “apostrophe-s” rule, although I suppose other words/names with a repeated “s” sound at the end would have been grudgingly admitted as well (e.g., “Xerxes”).

Lo and behold, I find in the gold standard Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition, 2010; 7.16) that I’ve been shamefully negligent in my apostrophe use!  Turns out that the general apostrophe-s rule “extends to proper nouns, including names ending in sx, or z.”  The 15th edition of Chicago (2003) didn’t use “Jesus” or “Moses” in their list of examples, but there it is, clear as day, in the 16th edition:

Jesus’s adherents

But that’s not all!  This simple corrective to my usual use of apostrophes caused me to stumble upon something jaw-dropping.  In a striking change from former practice (15th edition), Chicago now makes only two specific exceptions in “for . . . sake” expressions.  Only “for goodness’ sake” and “for righteousness’ sake” may use an apostrophe instead of an apostrophe-s because of euphony.  And many a sin has used euphony as an excuse!  In the 15th edition (7.22), however, an additional exception was specifically noted:

for Jesus’ sake

But now!  Ah, now that is no longer an exception.  Indeed, specifically listed (with no justification!) in the 16th edition (7.20), we have

for Jesus’s sake

It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!  Do you see it?  Whereas “Jesus” was formerly categorized with “goodness” and “righteousness,” now the name appears alongside “expedience” and “appearance”.  I kid you not—look it up yourself!

I suspect I’m onto a good dissertation topic possibility.

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Responses

  1. The University of Chicago: marginalizing Christianity since who knows when. :)


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