Do you have any idea what day it is?
According to ads in last Friday’s Holland Sentinel, today is either “President’s Day,” “Presidents’ Day,” or “Presidents Day.” I’m only sure of this – today is an apostrophe nightmare.
Technically, we are remembering George Washington’s birthday today and, I suppose, by extension the birthdays of all our other presidents. Birthdays bring a bit of possession with them, which eliminates “Presidents Day.” Sorry Buick and Art Van. You got it wrong. And since we don’t honor only Big George today but all the others, from Adams through Obama, “President’s Day” is also wrong. Sorry art gallery in Saugatuck. You missed, too. But I still like your gallery.
It’s “Presidents’ Day.” Congratulations Meijer, your ad was correct. Now try getting the people who write “The McCorkle’s” on their welcome mats to agree with you. And, while you’re at it, try getting the government to give you a compelling reason why November 11 is “Veterans Day” instead of “Veterans’ Day.” Apparently, we are only “honoring” veterans on November 11 and there is no possession indicated in honoring. Hmm. I thought we were honoring our presidents today, too.
Oh, for something logical like last Friday – Valentine’s Day. That one makes sense. I’m sorry, but I really don’t see why it isn’t Veterans’ Day. Maybe I just have a mental block. I will grant you there are some things I am unable to comprehend. The International Date Line, for one. Why my iron has a permanent press setting, for another. Why multiplying negative numbers makes them positive. Things like that.
We have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day presumably because although we honor all mothers and fathers on those days, you only have one mother and father. Like with presidents, we have April Fools’ Day and All Saints’ Day. But like with veterans, we have Columbus Day. I suppose this day doesn’t belong to Columbus because he didn’t discover anything millions of people weren’t already aware of. Make sense? Not to me. I think it should be “Columbus’s Day,” just like it’s Valentine’s Day. We don’t have Valentine Day. But I’m just a voice crying in the apostrophe wilderness.
Some say the most frequent apostrophe error is with its and it’s, since “its” goes against the rule and drops the apostrophe we normally add for possession. I will admit to writing it’s when I mean its in the heat of battle. For some reason, I never do it the other way, though. I never write its when it’s is called for. I believe the its/it’s thing is overblown. I know the difference yet still catch myself doing it wrong. I look at that as a typo, not ignorance. Its and it’s pales in comparison to the confusion over when to add ‘s on the end of a word that already ends with “s.” If you pay attention, you’ll see this mishandled daily.
The rule is simple. If the word ends in s and is singular, you add an ‘s for possession. If the word ends in s because an s has been added to make it plural, you add an apostrophe but do not add another s.
In other words, when William Shakespeare buys a new tennis racquet, he has just purchased William’s racquet. But when Serena Williams gets a racquet, it’s Williams’s racquet. (Even though Word just put a squiggly red line under “Williams’s,” I know I’m right. Damn you, Microsoft.) And if Shakespeare only bought a third of the racquet because William Pitt and William Wallace also each bought a third, said piece of sporting equipment is the three Williams’ racquet. Got it? Good, because no one else does. (There is a religious exception to this rule. No matter what the object, it is always Jesus’, never Jesus’s. He’s holy and doesn’t need any other letters. Please, for Jesus’ sake, remember this.)
Don’t let apostrophes get you down. Apostrophes confuse most everyone, from Li’l Abner to Lil’ Kim.
And to those who want to do away with apostrophes all together, I present the former Detroit Tigers’ player John Wockenfuss and his glove. It is Wockenfuss’s glove. If we eliminated apostrophes, this would be Wockenfusss glove. Start using words like that and we’re only a step or two away from devolving into German and talking about our lebensabschnittgefährter. (By the way, no one gets this right either – but when Wockenfuss and his family gather, they are the Wockenfusses. And if they had a welcome mat made, that’s what it should say on it: “The Wockenfusses.”)
Finally, in the bizarre world of how our language works, it’s only Presidents’ Day, and not Vice Presidents’ Day, but I still have to give a shout out to Joe Biden, who clarified last week whether he is a candidate for the presidential nomination in 2016 by saying, “There’s no obvious reason . . . why I think I should not run.” You’ve got me, Joe, but I suppose this sentence is a verbal example of the negative multiplication math rule I don’t understand.
Ain’t English fun?