Marfan Syndrome, Not Marfan’s Syndrome
To the Editor:
I read with interest the case of infantile Marfan syndrome reported by Doroshow, Lin, and Milliken.1 But I wish they would not use the possessive form of Marfan syndrome.
Use of eponyms for diseases is a common practice in medicine. It often conveys a nice sense of historical tribute, by calling diseases by proper names such as names of physicians (for example, Osler-Weber-Rendu disease), patients (for example, Lou Gehrig disease or Christmas disease), or sometimes geographic regions (for example, Silk Route disease2). The reason for use of the nonpossessive form is that the person or locale behind the eponym has no proprietary claim on the entity.3
The Council of Biology Editors’ manual4 has been strongest in its position: “It is recommended that the possessive form be eliminated altogether from eponymic terms so that they can be clearly differentiated from true possessives.” Certainly it would seem unnecessary to use the possessive before a sibilant, as in Marfan syndrome or Laennec cirrhosis. Furthermore, one avoids goofs such as “Grave’s disease,” “Homan’s sign,” “Wilm’s tumor,” and “Johns Hopkin’s president” when the apostrophe is put in the wrong place. Finally, just imagine how many trees could have been saved by eliminating all the unnecessary apostrophes and s’s.
- Copyright © 1999 by American Heart Association
Doroshow RW, Lin HJ, Milliken JC. Infantile Marfan’s syndrome. Circulation. 1998;97:1103–1104.
Cheng TO. Behçet’s disease (“Silk Route disease”) and mitral valve prolapse. West J Med. 1989;150:91.
Style Manual Committee, Council of Biology Editors. Scientific Style and Format: The CBE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers. 6th ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press; 1994.
We couldn’t agree more with Dr Cheng and thank him for making the point so eloquently. In fact, our original title was Infantile Marfan Syndrome. Our concerted efforts in that direction failed to dissuade the individual who edited our manuscript from following common, if incorrect, practice.