The Grammar Cop Weighs in on Presidents’ Day

Credit: Brick Police

Credit: Brick Police

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Grammar Cop — a forum for tips and reminders about the frequently confusing and often-illogical communications platform known as English.

It’s our job at The Hired Pens to pay attention to this stuff. (Truth be told, we’re kind of obsessive-compulsive about it, so this is actually fun for us.) Our philosophy is that grammar matters — not above all else, but as an essential consideration in marketing communications.

Don’t be turned off. The goal here is not to invoke the Ghosts of English Teachers Past. Rather, we want to point out some areas where people often get things wrong and to explain the reasoning behind the rules.

To kick things off, let’s look at the name of an upcoming federal holiday — a name that seems simple, but is misspelled by organizations across the country: Presidents’ Day.

Check Your Calendars

In more than a dozen states, governmental agencies write this holiday in their official publications as President’s Day. See what’s different? That apostrophe moved from the right side of the “s” to the left side. And that’s just wrong. Here’s why:

Originally, the holiday we’re celebrating this month was dedicated to contemplating the greatness of our first president, George Washington, born Feb. 22. Later, various locales decided to honor our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, born Feb. 12. Instead of having two separate holidays, a single holiday was created to honor both of them. As a compromise, the holiday would be held the third Monday of February, which this year is Feb. 16.

So the fact that we’re giving kudos to two presidents — plural, not singular — means that the proper construction is Presidents’ Day. Alternatively, you could write Presidents Day — a modern way of dealing with the confusion that is the apostrophe. But it’s definitely not President’s Day because it’s not about a single president.

And About Those Veterans …

To expand the point, consider another holiday — the one that honors veterans. We’re not talking about a single guy who put on a uniform and fought for the country, right? So again, it’s Veterans’ Day or Veterans Day. Not Veteran’s Day.

We won’t shame those states that struggle with this concept, but we will honor those that spelled both holidays correctly last time we checked. The honor roll: Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont and Washington. (Some states don’t list Presidents’ Day as an official holiday.)

Confusingly enough, the federal holiday — intended to honor both Washington and Lincoln — is officially known as Washington’s Birthday. Blame Congress.

Michael Blumfield has been a Hired Pen since 2011.

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