Achilles' heel

Discussion in 'English Only' started by zakare, Feb 23, 2009.

  1. zakare Senior Member

    When referring to someone's weakness using the expression "Achilles' heel," is the apostrophe used to denote Achilles' possession?

    ex. His Achilles(') heel is that...

    It would be logical to include the apostrophe, but have recently seen it in a prestigious English newspaper without it.

    Thoughts would be appreciated.
  2. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    As you say, it's logical to include the apostrophe. The use of the apostrophe is however, I suspect, in a state of transition.

    My suspicion is that it won't exist a hundred years from now...
  3. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I would write it as Achilles', so would the OED, but I see lots of examples without the apostrophe.
  4. zakare Senior Member

    Yes, that makes a great deal of sense indeed.
  5. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    I'm ashamed to admit that I might not notice it if a writer uses "Achilles heel" instead of "Achilles' heel."

    I believe that I would write it "Achilles' heel," however.
  6. Redshade Banned

    I would have written "Achilles's heel".

    Not because I paid attention in English classses but because after not paying attention in compulsory First Form (Seventh grade) Greek History and Latin language this immediately bubbles up from the depth of my ignorance.

    Please be gentle with me all you Grammarians out there.
  7. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    As most of the actual grammar I remember comes to me from my own time in grammar elementary school, my first instinct is to write Achilles's. I've since accepted that this is one rule in flux and that Achilles' is widely held as correct and even as preferable.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2009
  8. Gwan Senior Member

    Indre et Loire, France
    New Zealand, English
    I'm one who prefers Achilles' to Achilles's. Although I suspect this is another thread, really.
  9. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Please see Possessive - proper names ending in Z or S

    If you pronounce this chappie's heel as Achilleezees - with four syllables - then write it as Achilles's.
    If you don't, and I suspect that most people don't, then write it with the number of syllables it has when you speak it - Achilles'.
  10. Waylink Senior Member

    English (British)
    Various current English dictionaries give it as [ Achilles heel ] without any apostrophe while others show it as [ Achilles' heel ].

    Oxford is somewhat inconsistent or, you could say, changing. The 1995 Oxford OALD does use the apostrophe but the 2005 and current online version do not use any apostrophe in that expression.

    Collins Cobuild does not use the apostrophe at all in [ Achilles heel ] and not in the medical term [ Achilles tendon ] either. It does not even give it as an alternative or second preference.

    To insist on an apostrophe could be seen as rather like saying:
    [ London's Bridge ] { Edit: This is not a good example of what I mean. Perhaps [ London's traffic ] versus [ London traffic ]. }

    [ Paris's Metro ]
    or insisting on [ the city's centre ] rather than the more common [ the city centre ].

    Just because something is named after someone does not mean that the possessive has to be used -

    [ Celsius thermometer ]

    [ Wankel engine ]

    [ Belisha beacons ]

    But I see that the same Collins Cobuild as mentioned above does refer to [ Adam's apple ] as in the neck/throat. So much for consistency!
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2009
  11. Æsop Banned

    Suburb of Washington, D.C.
    English--American (upstate NY)
    <<Irrelevant comment deleted.>>

    Does the treatment of the tendon that runs through the heel provide any guidance for describing the metaphorical point of vulnerability? Does anyone refer to "Achilles's" or "Achilles'" tendon?

    Does the use of articles suggest that the name is attributive instead of possessive? While we might say "London's Bridge," would we say the London's Bridge? If not, does it make sense to say an Achilles'/Achilles's heel or the Achilles'/Achilles's tendon?
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 25, 2009
  12. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Considering that the heel, or tendon, in question most definitely does not belong to Achilles, it does seem odd to use a possessive indicator. After all, I can talk about my Achilles' heel.

    As for the heel/tendon debate - I suspect that Achilles heel is used in the metaphor; Achilles tendon is used in the gym. I don't think I have heard any of those limping athletes talk about a problem with their Achilles heel. Of course they probably talk about a problem with their Achilles.

    We would talk about London's bridges, but not London's Bridge - the bridge I expect Aesop has in mind is known as London Bridge.

    I'm going off the apostrophe :)
  13. dermott

    dermott Senior Member

    Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy
    B.E. via Australian English
    I wouldn't use the apostrophe. It's an expression, not a description of ownership.
  14. sukepeth Member

    English -American
    The general rule: After classical or biblical names (Moses, Zeus, Xerxes, etc) you add just an apostrophe: so Achilles' heel.

    After normal names like Thomas, you can choose: Thomas' book or Thomas's book -- although a lot of people prefer the latter because it follows the general rule for forming the genitive and it reflects what we say.

    There's a lot of confusion about the use of the apostrophe, which is why there are so many examples of Achilles heel. An example of language in change.

    The idea of ownership (or not) isn't important -- the genitive can express all sort of relationships -- although the most typical relationship is that of ownership (which is why so many people say "possessive" instead of "genitive" case).
    Example: Sarah's book can be the book Sarah owns, the book she wrote, the book she's holding in her hands, maybe even (depending on context) the book which is written about Sarah, etc.
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2009

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