Eugene Volokh asks:

So how come the Writers Guild of America and the Authors Guild, organizations for professional users of words, have what seems to be a mispunctuation in their names? (I'd have thought it would be the Writers' Guild, or conceivably -- though I wouldn't much like it -- the Writer's Guild, if they want to stress that it's an organization for each individual writer.) Is there some complicated labor union movement background here that I'm missing? Or are they just trying to make sure there's work left for the Proofreaders' Guild?

UPDATE: Some people respond saying that it's just the plural, not the possessive. But that's the question -- should you just have the plural, or the possessive of the plural?

This is an issue I've dealt with before, and I think the answer's the same. "Writers" isn't being used as a possessive -- the name isn't saying the guild belongs to the writers -- it's being used as an adjective. What type of guild is it? It's a writers guild. Similarly for "authors".

Consider some other examples. Dr. Seuss wrote books for children: childrens books. Those books may have also belonged to children, and thus been "children's books" as well. Likewise, Saddam Hussein kept childrens prisons -- the prisons didn't belong to the children, that's just who he kept there.

When we were making signs for our childrens ministry at church (Rockstars) the signs were printed as "Rockstars Children's Ministry" -- likely leading to the confusion of no one, but still mildly annoying to me when I think about it.

Update, revisted:
Ok, now I'm more sure of this post again, thanks to Heather's comment and reference to the Chicago Style Manual.

My handy Chicago Manual of Style says:

7.27 "...Chicago dispenses with the apostrophe only in proper names...or where there is clearly no possessive meaning."

That example looks incredibly familiar, and in fact I think it's identical to the example I saw several months ago; unfortunately, if I got this idea from the CMS, I can't find an open-access version of it online anymore. However, the FAQ says this:
Q. Would the phrase “The Board of Trustees meeting” be considered an attributive noun? Or should possession be indicated with an apostrophe? Thank you for your assistance.

A. Better to write “board of trustees’ meeting.” When it is a matter of drawing the line between the possessive (or genitive) form and the attributive (adjectival) form, CMS generally sides with the former, adding the apostrophe unless there’s no possessive meaning or unless it is a matter of an official, published form that does not carry the apostrophe. See paragraph 7.27 in CMS 15 for examples. ...

Q. My husband owns a production company with his brother. The name of the company is Deep-Dish Pictures. The brothers would like to state on their video jacket that the film is: A PEPPERONI BROTHERS FILM. No one in the production company can agree if it should be: A PEPPERONI BROTHERS FILM, A PEPPERONI BROTHER’S FILM, or A PEPPERONI BROTHERS’ FILM. [Company and surname changed for this forum.] Please help!!!! Thanks!

A. It should be “a Pepperoni brothers film” because “Pepperoni brothers” is functioning as an adjective (it is a film by the Pepperoni brothers; compare “employees’ cafeteria,” a cafeteria for employees). “Pepperoni brothers” can also function possessively: I saw the Pepperoni brothers’ first film last year.

As with much else in English, it looks like there may be many correct variations.



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