Tuesday, February 19, 2013


This year for the first time I realized that no one can agree on where to place the apostrophe (if at all) in President's' Day. A quick search on the internet shows that the definitive answer is obvious--call it Washington's Birthday.

But since I saw it in commercials for mattresses spelled three different ways I was compelled to figure out which way is correct.

Digression: Why mattresses and presidents? (though JFK and Clinton come to mind when searching for a connection). Can you imagine George saying to Martha, "Some day I hope they commemorate me and all the great men and women (in this Downton Abbey-like revisionist version I am making him a feminist) who hold my job in the future by offering great deals on mattresses!!"

No of course not. He would have wanted the day commemorated by giving our kids the day off of school so we can take them to Nickel City (local arcade) which, at this time of year, as my neighbor Danielle pointed out, could also be called Cesspool.

Or we could honor them by cramming the day full of orthodontist appointments and last-minute rehearsals for the high-school variety show. Whatever.

Back to the apostrophe. I am going to make a case here.

It can't be President's Day because that would imply we are only honoring one president which defeats the whole purpose of changing it from Washington's Birthday in the first place.

It technically could be Presidents' Day for obvious reasons.

But this year I noticed a lot of companies went with the somewhat confusing Presidents Day. I had this explained to me once by a colleague, Mary Brent who pointed out that if you use a noun enough it kind of becomes an adjective and you don't need to worry about possession anymore. Her example was Farmers Insurance.

I also noticed that Sears and BMW went apostrophe-free (in their TV ads anyway) and I choose to believe they have some of the best copywriters left in the world.

Tweeters don't do copy-writing so maybe I need to explain....Well kids, once upon a time there were people who, never mind. It gives me comfort to imagine a room full of smart English majors debating this over at Sears headquarters. Sears' headquarters. Errr...

So I make the case to go apostrophe-free. I have at least two regular readers who are English majors (Amy and Lorri) who may want to thrust and parry on this. Go for it.

And while I am suggesting we let go of that apostrophe, and we are fresh off the Family Christmas Card Season, a gentle reminder that you should not sign the card "Love, the Brown's" It is simply, "Love, the Browns".

Think about it a minute, I'll wait.

Oh, no, I do not think you are a silly goose for making this very common mistake and did it myself for MANY years. But stop it now.

So today's lesson is that with apostrophes, as with mattress sales, less is more and if I ever figure out commas I can share that with you too.


  1. The annoying thing about spelling is that, like in politics, often the people who know least about it eventually get their way.

  2. OK, you may not know how radical I am on this issue, and I may not get into it here. Someday I will send you my manifesto on spelling and the time Americans waste teaching it. Now, I detest the assumption that English majors all view themselves as keepers of the keys to proper spelling and grammar. I do have a lot of opinions about many points that people consider matters of grammar or spelling, but they all hinge on what is CLEAR, not what was deemed correct by some subset of English speakers once upon a time. On to this specific issue: by all means drop the apostrophe. I completely agree that in this case, Presidents has become an adjective. I always feel that Farmers Insurance should be Farmers' Insurance, but I understand why they have simplified it to be just Farmers. Let me also comment that Sears was never Sears' -- It is the shortened version of Sears, Roebuck & Co. I believe the namesake was Sears, but that comes about from a long habit of thinking of stores as being the property (i.e. possession) of their founders. So you go to "Harry's Store" which you call "Harry's" for short, but that gets generalized to other stores that were never known as possessives. Do I shop at Meijer or Meijer's? It should be the former but many people will casually say Meijer's and they do not mean multiple stores, they mean the store that (originally) belonged to Fred Meijer. What about "Breakfast at Tiffany's"--the store is official called "Tiffany and Co."

    While we are at it: How do you pluralize a last name like Buttery? Butterys? Butteries? Most people will go with Buttery's even when it has nothing to do with possession. And when the (plural) Butterys put their name on a cottage or something: Butterys'? Ya know, many people would scratch their heads at the very fact this is interesting to anyone. I wish it were not interesting to me--I consider it an unpleasant side effect of being an English major.

    1. Amy, that is the perfect response to my post! Please don't say there might not be a RIGHT answer to all grammar questions...we look to you English Majors to tell us what is right and wrong we don't care if it is arbitrary...we want order to the chaos! If not we'd all just ask an Econ Major.

      You made me laugh out loud and I am SO grateful you addressed the mysterious plural-sounding Ward's and Penney's. I always wondered about that and believe it might be kind of a Michigan thing.

      As for the plural of Buttery--well that IS a bit confusing isn't it. I guess you can always go with Love, the Buttery Family but it doesn't really address the issue.

      It reminds me of the first time I wrote my son Atticus's name as a possessive. I was a little stumped but rather than look it up in a grammar book I pulled out my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and did what Harper Lee did.

      Maybe she would have an opinion on Presidents Day and apostrophes.

      I love that you care about such things and do not consider it an unattractive side-effect of your vocation but rather a blessing.

  3. I had the same problem with Valentines Day this year.

  4. IDK? Whilst I do enjoy a hearty debate about the subtlties of the English language, me thinks the siege is larger than apostrophes. LOL! (JK). :)

  5. Oh boy, Judy, have you opened a can of worms here. The great apostrophe debate is on! Thanks for the chuckle.

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  8. One need not have been an English major to lament the laxness afflicting proper grammatical constructs in today's society. This studio art major invites you to join:

    The Apostrophe Protection Society (http://www.apostrophe.org.uk/); and

    The Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) (http://greattypohunt.com/)to relish the mission of two self-styled grammar vigilantes who are also concerned with the perhaps even more lamentable decline in the usage of the ever important comma as well as with flagrant spelling errors.


    Julie's sister-in-law

    1. Thanks for commenting, Julie's Sister-in-law! I am happy to meet someone who cares about such matters. I have to confess though, I really do not understand commas very well myself! I will check out both grammar sites.

  9. Judy,

    I am so glad there are people like me out there. It takes every fiber of restraint that my being can muster to not jump across the counter at Starbucks or my local deli with a Sharpie or piece of chalk in hand to correct their atrocious grammar mistakes. *sigh* Don't even get me started on its and it's!

    It is so hard being perfect, especially in a world full of people with blatant disregard for the English language.

    Thanks for this fun post, and I will definitely be back to read more!


  10. MOV,
    Thanks for stopping by! Come back soon.