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I've been reading William Manchester's book "American Caesar", which is about Douglas MacArthur, and I found that he uses a strange convention for pluralizing the family name. When talking about the MacArthurs as a whole, he writes MacArthur' with an apostrophe, as in "After the war, the MacArthur' lived in Tokyo while the general was proconsul" (yes, he uses that term to describe him).

I have never seen or heard of a rule that would prescribe this. Manchester is a bit old-timey in his style: for example, he also writes "in behalf of" instead of "on behalf of", which is the only one I have ever seen. So perhaps this is similar. Where does he get this apostrophe from?

Edit: There seems to be some difficulty finding examples, which is odd. Here is a direct link to a page from Google Books that shows the apostrophe.

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Does this occur multiple times, or just once? If just once, I’d guess it’s a typo. If it’s clear it was deliberate, though, then this is a very intriguing question! –  PLL May 30 '12 at 16:40
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I've never seen that usage either. Perhaps it's some obsolete usage, perhaps it's an editing error, or maybe it's just the writer's own little quirk. The only time I know of when you should end a word with an apostrophe is if it's already a plural ending in "s", like "the boys' books", i.e. the books belonging to more than one boy. (Or sometimes singlular words that already end in an -s sound.) –  Jay May 30 '12 at 16:43
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It's deliberate: he does this all over the place. Search for "the MacArthur" in this book in Google books for some examples. –  Ryan Reich May 30 '12 at 19:25
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I've just finished reading that book, and I can't say that I noticed anything unusual in the punctuation. Perhaps is was just a typo? –  Brian Hooper May 30 '12 at 21:52
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@Brian: Not a typo. Do the search I suggested; some of the returns are things like "the MacArthur candidacy", but about half are things like "when the MacArthur' checked in at the Waldorf-Astoria" and "she could remember the MacArthur' appearing for an officer's departure only once before". –  Ryan Reich May 30 '12 at 22:03
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2 Answers

There are a couple of rules I've found which might explain this. One is that in Gaelic, dual masculine nouns are identical to singular, so you might have the MacArthur meaning one or more MacArthurs.

The second is the apologetic apostrophe. Old Scots writing never used an apostrophe, but people started putting one in to help correlate Scottish writing with its English equivalent (so wi' for with). It might be the case that this happened with the missing s in the MacArthur too.

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The apologetic apostrophe is interesting and possible, but I'm not sure about the plural form. According to that Wikipedia article, it's only the dual rather than the full plural that's the same as the singular, and the MacArthur' were a family of three. –  Ryan Reich May 30 '12 at 21:54
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You're right (and I should read more carefully). Maybe they just missed off the -an? Edited my answer for accuracy anyway; I hoped it might lead to someone else coming up with a better one. –  Lunivore May 30 '12 at 23:57
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Is it possible that this was a search and replace error? Sometimes when a book is edited there might be an attempt at automated correction of a common mistake. For example, perhaps the author often forgot to include an apostrophe when meaning to write "MacArthur's." If an editor tried to search for this mistake and insert an apostrophe each time it occurred, it may have erroneously produced "MacArthur' " when the author genuinely meant to refer to the family as "MacArthurs." One such search and replace action alone might not produce the noted error. However, multiple passes of similar search and replace edits might lead to what the Ryan noticed.

Here is a clbuttic example you may enjoy: http://forums.thedailywtf.com/forums/t/5552.aspx

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