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When expanding an abbreviation in parentheses, sometimes the thing that was abbreviate was used in a possessive context.

Consider the following example:

If the Giant Ostrich Bomb's (GOB) fuse is too short, you may be too close when it goes off and you may get kicked in the face.

Is the above correct, or should it be rewritten this way instead:

If the Giant Ostrich Bomb (GOB)'s fuse is too short, you may be too close when it goes off and you may get kicked in the face.

If this is a matter of style, do any of the popular style manuals have a recommendation?

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    The second one is much clearer - the first one looks at first glance like you're talking about the "(GOB) fuse" that belongs to the Giant Ostrich Bomb. I can't find a specific style guide reference for this exact case though. Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 15:35
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    Of course, there's usually an easy way around such issues by re-phrasing them slightly; e.g. "If the fuse from the Giant Ostrich Bomb (GOB) is too short ...".
    – TrevorD
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 17:24
  • @TrevorD, that's true, and that's usually what I'd do. I encountered a situation where re-writing was not possible (the text was being programmatically generated). Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 17:59
  • The Giant Ostrich Bomb (GOB) is useful but if the GOB's fuse is too short,... or (almost as Trevor D says) If the fuse of the Giant Ostrich Bomb (GOB) is too short ...".
    – Greybeard
    Commented Feb 10, 2021 at 20:29

3 Answers 3

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In your question, the two alternatives that you permit readers (and yourself) to consider are

If the Giant Ostrich Bomb's (GOB) fuse is too short, you may be too close when it goes off and you may get kicked in the face.

and

If the Giant Ostrich Bomb (GOB)'s fuse is too short, you may be too close when it goes off and you may get kicked in the face.

But there are clearly at least two other plausible options whose existence you don't acknowledge. These are (1) rewriting to avoid the possessive (as suggested in Love's answer):

If the fuse of the Giant Ostrich Bomb (GOB) is too short, you may be too close when it goes off and you may get kicked in the face.

and (2) rewriting to include the possessive in both the full wording and the abbreviation:

If the Giant Ostrich Bomb's (GOB's) fuse is too short, you may be too close when it goes off and you may get kicked in the face.

It seems to me that either of these latter two approaches is superior to either of the earlier two approaches because the latter two approaches are internally consistent and don't call attention to themselves in a distracting way, as the earlier two approaches do.

The style guides I consulted (Oxford, Chicago, Words into Type, and AP) offer no guidance on how to deal with this situation, although most do discuss the practice of following a complete term or proper name with its abbreviation in parentheses. The reason for this silence, I believe, is that style guides view it as a matter of common sense to recast the sentence to avoid the 's spelling altogether.

But if such a restructuring seems impossible for some reason, the next question to ask, I think, is, "How I would I say this if I were saying the words to someone in conversation?" In that case, I think "the Giant Ostrich Bomb's (GOB's) fuse" is easier for the hearer to make sense of than either "the Giant Ostrich Bomb's (GOB) fuse" or "the Giant Ostrich Bomb (GOB)'s fuse." But this is ultimately a style question—and a matter of opinion—not an issue of syntactical right and wrong.

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I would rather you reword the sentence to avoid the possessive. Probably something like this:

If the fuse of the Giant Ostrich Bomb(GOB) is too short, you may be too close when it goes off and you may get kicked in the face.

If I had to pick out of the two, the first one seems logical.

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The 17th edition of Chicago provides clear guidance. See 7.17 (under Possessives):

Avoid forming the possessive of an abbreviation that is followed by a spelled-out form in parentheses (or vice versa).

the long history of International Business Machines (IBM)

not

IBM's (International Business Machines') long history

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