We speakers of English are a possessive lot. The trait is built into our language, all that apostrophe-ess stuff like "my brother's keeper," "the horse's mouth," and "someone else's opinion." We like to know what belongs to whom.
Possessives endow us with a comfortable sense of property, of owning, and--even more important--of belonging. They suggest that nothing in this world is unattached, that none of us is an island.
Ours is nearly the only language that uses that peculiar apostrophe-ess way of showing ownership and belonging: "my brother's keeper," "the horse's mouth," "someone else's opinion." Most other languages say something like "the keeper of my brother," "the mouth of the horse," or "the opinion of someone else." In English we can go either way, within limits. The limits are important.
All this came to mind when I heard someone on the radio talking about "the ark of Noah." I turned then to my wife.
"There's an oddity," I said. "Who ever heard of 'the ark of Noah'?"
"It's from the Biblical story. You know, all the animals two by two." My wife is a fountain of knowledge.
"Yes, I know about 'Noah's Ark,' but not 'the ark of Noah.' It's like saying 'the law of Murphy.'"
"Isn't that the one about how the overalls got into the chowder of Mrs. Murphy?"
"There! You hear how funny that sounds? Noah's Ark and Murphy's Law and Mrs. Murphy's chowder are stock phrases. We have to keep them as they are, not with of but with apostrophe-ess."
"How about 'Paul Revere's ride'? Wasn't it really 'The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere'?" She had pinned me on a technicality, but I didn't give up.
"Look, remember last March when we went to Las Vegas for our anniversary? Where did we stay?"
"The palace of Caesar," she said. …