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A possessive maitre d’

Q: I’m an editor at a travel magazine and I have an apostrophe problem. How do I refer to the duties of a maître d’? Is it maître d’s, maître d”s, or something else?

A: We can’t find any style manuals that address this issue directly, so we’ll have to tippy-toe into unknown waters and rely on common sense!

But first let us recommend the cowardly solution. Why not avoid the issue? You could say the maitre d’hotel’s duties or the duties of the maitre d’. If you insist on facing this possessive problem head on, though, here are our thoughts.

You have two needs for an apostrophe in this case: the apostrophe of elision (the one that stands for what’s missing in maitre d’hotel) and the apostrophe of possession. If any reference book did advise you to use both apostrophes, we’d say it was nuts. So we advise maitre d’s as the possessive.

One clue you could use to justify this is that The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language  says the plural of maitre d’ is maitre d’s. American Heritage is a dictionary that makes single letters (like d) plural by adding an apostrophe plus s (‘s). With maitre d’, however, it drops one of the apostrophes.

In other words, the dictionary pluralizes maitre d’ as maitre d’s, not as maitre d’’s. One can only assume that it would have done the same for the possessive, if it had dealt with the issue.

A couple of parting remarks. In English, one doesn’t italicize maitre d’. We’ve used italics here to avoid the quotation marks that we normally use to set off words. And in English usage, the circumflex is optional: “You can call him maitre d’, maitre d’hotel, or headwaiter, but he’s George to me.”

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