Continuing confusion over the eponymous possessive

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.311.7018.1508b (Published 02 December 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1508
  1. Andrew D Carothers, Medical statistician
  1. MRC Human Genetics Unit, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh EH4 2XU

    EDITOR,--Despite discussion in the medical press for many years the use of the possessive form for eponymous syndromes and diseases remains as confused and inconsistent as ever. For example, some medical dictionaries, such as Black's, consistently use the possessive form whereas others, such as Jablonski's, equally consistently use the non-possessive.1 2 Index Medicus, which might be expected to be authoritative, is hopelessly inconsistent, listing some possessive forms (for example, Alzheimer's, Hodgkin's, Huntington's, Klinefelter's, and Turner's) and some non-possessive forms (Crohn, Down, Marfan, Parkinson, and Rett).3 Fanconi appears in the possessive form for the anaemia but not for the syndrome. Nor is current or recent use much help. A search of titles in the Science Citation Index for 1981-5 and 1991-5 shows that the use of the possessive has decreased for chromosomal syndromes—from 60% to 52% for Down's, from 74% to 62% for Klinefelter's, and from 64% to 42% for Turner's. Huntington's has also decreased slightly, from 82% to 76%.4 Alzheimer's and Hodgkin's, however, have remained steady at about 90% and 95% respectively, while Parkinson's has increased from 87% and is now (despite Index Medicus and Jablonski) almost universal at 98%.

    I have no strong views about which form is preferable. The lack of consistency, however, causes needless complications when one searches the literature. Is it not time for the editors of the major medical journals to come to an agreed position and to issue firm guidelines on use?


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