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April 16th, 2008

Dr. Seuss'? Bridget Jones's? / tolerancy / myself

by Barbara Wallraff

Michael Onesi, of Kingston, Ontario, writes: “Hollywood has me confused about the use of ‘’s’ following a name that ends with ‘s.’ ‘Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who’ is now playing in theatres. The punctuation of this title conflicts with the name of a hit movie from a few years ago, ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary.’ Who is right? Should it be ‘Dr. Seuss’s’ or ‘Bridget Jones’’?”

Dear Michael: No matter what I tell you, some authorities will call me wrong. The Associated Press Stylebook, which most newspapers follow, says that to make a possessive out of a singular name that ends in “s,” you shouldn’t add anything more than an apostrophe -- so ’” and “Jones’.” But the Chicago Manual of Style, which many book publishers follow, says it’s better to add an “s” as well -- so “Seuss’s” and “Jones’s.”

I’m in favor of writing the “s,” because we pronounce it as an extra syllable -- “Seuss-ez,” “Jones-ez.” Still, I know it saves ink and trees and space to leave the “s” off -- and newspapers try to be economical with all three, so I don’t hold their choice against them. A good case can be made on each side of this argument. Be that as it may, no one who cares in the slightest about language seems tempted to say, “Oh, whatever.” Even the Arkansas legislature has weighed in. Last year it passed a bill making “Arkansas’s” the official possessive. The state’s largest paper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, won’t hear of it, though, and continues to use the possessive “Arkansas’.”

Eamon Winston, of Monterey, Calif., writes: “Is ‘tolerancy’ a word? If so, is it interchangeable with ‘tolerant,’ or would it be used in a different context?”

Dear Eamon: No, it’s not a word -- but that doesn’t stop people from using it. You can easily find it on the Internet. I’ll thank you, though, not to perform this search. I just did, and an online dictionary told me it didn’t have a definition for “tolerancy,” but it was “increasing the priority” for the word because I was looking for it. Never mind that I’m not sure what that message means -- I don’t like the sound of it.

Sandy Regan, of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., writes: “‘Please join Bob and me in welcoming Ted’ or ‘... Bob and myself’? My dictionary says ‘myself’ is used as an intensifier of ‘me’ or a reflexive substitute for ‘me’: ‘I burned myself.’ It seems that people don’t like to use ‘me.’”

Dear Sandy: I tried to explain that to Ira Glass, who always ends his radio program, “This American Life,” by announcing that the episode was produced by somebody or other “and myself” -- but I didn’t get anywhere. Sigh.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says: “Such uses almost always occur when the speaker or writer is referring to himself or herself as an object of discourse rather than as a participant in discourse. ... These uses are standard.” But the American Heritage Dictionary says that “a large majority” of its usage panel “disapproves of the use of ‘-self’ pronouns when they do not refer to the subject of the sentence.” These days, using “myself” the way you did in your example isn’t conspicuously ignorant --but using “me” instead is conspicuously better.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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