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  SO, DOES VETERANS DAY HAVE A FUCKING APOSTROPHE OR WHAT?  
   
   
 

If you're like me, you've spent autumn's chilly Saturdays sipping wine by the fire and thinking, "Where the heck does the apostrophe go in the upcoming Veterans Day, and should there be one at all?"

I can't to blame you. This is a pretty heated debate.

In fact, calendars, the government and newspaper editors like me all contradict each other.

It would be nice if we could agree on the correct name of the holiday: Veterans, Veteran's, or Veteran's.

There's even more confusion with holidays like Presidents' Day and Mother's Day, not to mention terms like drivers' license.

So why can't anyone agree?

One problem is, all three versions can be grammatically correct, depending on the case you make for them. But we should decide who is the final authority in this -- calendars, the government or newspapers.

My Mead pocket calendar tells me that "Veterans' Day" has an apostrophe after the "S." But the federal Veterans Administration doesn't include one.

On the VA website, it explains, "Veterans Day does not include an apostrophe because it is not a day that 'belongs' to veterans; it is a day for honoring all veterans."

That should be the final word, right?

Well, yes and no.

Calendar makers often rely on McGraw-Hill's 48-year-old Chase's Calendar of Events, the worldwide "Bible" of both official and silly holidays (Squirrel Appreciation Day is probably the nuttiest).

Chase's Calendar of Events chooses to include an apostrophe in Presidents' Day, but not in Veterans Day. Editor-in-Chief Holly McGuire told me: "Veterans Day and Veterans' Day, Presidents Day and Presidents' Day are all acceptable uses. We do pay attention to the little apostrophe but it can be a messy process -- as anything involving folk tradition is bound to be."

So Chase agrees with the government on "Veterans," which is good. But Mead, which normally follows Chase's guidance, differs on this one. According to a spokesman for the Ohio-based company, customers have complained to them that there should be an apostrophe in Veterans' Day. Grammatically, "Veteran's" could mean the day belongs to each veteran; "Veterans' " means it belongs to all vets, and "Veterans" can mean "A day where we honor veterans." Sticklers tend to like "Veterans' " best. I'll stick with the government's decision, but I can see why Mead figures it the way it does.

When it comes to Presidents' Day, the situation gets even messier.

Presidents' Day is not a federally observed holiday. The holiday in Washington, D.C. has always been called "Washington's Birthday." "Presidents' Day" was actually made up by retailers and advertisers in the 1970s. What happened was that in 1968, "Washington's Birthday" was moved to the third Monday in February by the federal Monday Holiday Law. At the time, an Illinois congressman proposed changing the name to "Presidents' Day," but his suggestion failed.

However, after the Monday Holiday Law officially took effect in 1971, certain individual states started calling it "Presidents' Day," and so did your friendly neighborhood malls.

There's an urban myth that Richard Nixon is responsible for the error (doesn't he get blamed for everything?) It even said so in Wikipedia until someone corrected it a few months ago—as they were Wik-ed wrong.

The reason Nixon got blamed for the confusion is that five years ago, Bill Clinton mistakenly referred to "Presidents' Day" in a public proclamation. Arkansas Democrat Gazette humor columnist Michael Storey joked around in his humor column that Nixon had made the same goofup in 1971, declaring, "Pat and I plan to celebrate at one of many Presidents' Day sales, purchasing for her a good Republican cloth coat."

Apparently, the print media took Storey's column seriously and repeated the bogus tale, and the myth made its way into places like Wikipedia.

"So much has been made of a holiday that not only has no official spelling, it does not exist," Storey told me earlier this year.

The Government Printing Office's long style manual does refer to the faux holiday. It lists the spelling as "Presidents Day." But various other government websites call it "Presidents'."

When asked about this, GPO spokeswoman Lydia Holt said, "The versions [for Presidents and Veterans] were chosen by applying the rules of Chapter 8, specifically rules 8.18 through 8.3. The 's' makes them plural and possession is not involved."

Yeah, okay. But Webster's Dictionary includes the apostrophe!

Fear not -- there's the good news in all of this. The federal government is saving you money. Yes, it is. The decisions made in private industry prove it. Loews Theaters dropped their apostrophe after Larry Tisch took over the company in 1969. "It was considered unnecessary by Mr. Tisch, [and] it made all the printing more expensive," a Loews spokesperson said.

So the lack of an apostrophe in Veterans and sometimes in Presidents saves ink and cash.

Let's agree on this: Veterans Day should have no apostrophe because the government says so. Presidents' Day maybe gets to keep it because grammarians like it that way. Mother's Day is a day for each wonderful mother.

And what of driver's license?

The governments of New York, Texas and several other states avoid confusion by calling the cards "drivER licenses."

Brilliant! Now if they can only fix the potholes.

 

Caren Lissner is the author of the novel Carrie Pilby and has just completed her third book, The Red and the Blue. Find out more at carenlissner.com.