Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why No Apostrophe in Veterans Day?

An apostrophe would give people the wrong idea of what Veterans Day is all about, says the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (also no apostrophe).

According to their website, "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."

Fact is, veterans is not playing a possessive function in the phrase, Veterans Day; its function is attributive.

According to the Copyeditor's Handbook (notice the apostrophe) entry on attributive nouns, "The apostrophe is omitted when a plural head noun ending in s functions as an adjective, rather than as a possessor. In other words, when the relation between the plural head noun and the second noun could be expressed by the prepositions 'for' or 'by' rather than the possessive 'of.'"

So Veterans Day is a day for veterans, not a day of veterans. Okay, but just as this starts to make sense, the handbook goes on to say, "If the plural form of the head noun does not end in an s, an apostrophe is used."

That's almost as confusing as its and it's.

When language and its rules get weird like this, it's often a signal that the language is changing. Some uses of the apostrophe may be on their way out. A linguist in the article, "Apostrophe Sparks Veterans Day Conundrum" (11/07 The Missourian), calls the apostrophe "an overrated piece of punctuation."

Is the apostrophe really on its way out of the English language? Some people are actively trying to eliminate it, such as the author of killtheapostrophe.com, who writes, "It serves only to annoy those who know how it is supposed to be used and to confuse those who dont."

I once took a very important quiz on Quizilla, called "What Punctuation Mark are You?" I was really hoping I would be an apostrophe, but it turns out I'm a comma.

It's a good thing, too, since the apostrophe often falls victim to abuse, has so many enemies, and is looking at a rather tenuous future.


Monica... That One Girl said...

Thank you for this little gem, Indie. I wondered about this, actually, until your blog post yesterday (I think), and I'm glad you explained it. I actually spent a portion of this morning, on the air on KWPT, proofreading the Times-Standard, for this very error. :-)

Amazing how these little things make us journalism geeks better editors (if not writers).


Indie said...

Monica, that's how I learned about it. I was editing a press release late Sunday night, and I found some act of congress declaring There Would Be No Apostrophe -- not really, but some official document that made me envision a roomful of bureaucrats, the Bureau of Government Punctuation Affairs.

The kind of stuff that makes me laugh disproportionately if it's late at night and I'm punchy.

Proofreading the T-S on the radio? I'll be tuning in to KWPT now you have my curiosity going.

Monica... That One Girl said...

Well, today was only a fill-in shift on the Point, but I'm on KSLG every weekend... I'll make sure to do some proofreading for you, this coming Saturday. Some of the local publications make for some awesome editing.

Actually, last weekend, it was MSNBC and an on-screen thingy that said "President and Laura Bush to host the Obama's in the White House"... again with the apostrophes! Unless Obama's is possessive (and I don't think it is), it shouldn't be there. One would think that even the low-paid peons at MSNBC would realize that. Or they should hire me. :-D

Ernie Branscomb said...

I'm an equal opportunity abuser. I abuse all punctuation.

It reminds me when Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller “The Birds” came out, it was advertised on the billboards as “The Birds is coming”. It was a very effective advertisement.

Indie said...

Monica, go gently with your proofreading of the Mack Press! Please have mercy on the tiny crew and our late, late hours.

Ernie, I'm just a word nerd, what can I say? That's a cool piece of trivia about The Birds billboards. I wonder if I can find a picture of one online somewhere...

Kym said...

I swear I left a comment here about the apostrophe....

Now all I remember was that I now understand why there isn't an apostrophe in Veterans Day.

Indie said...

Kym, I think you responded to "A Little Direction Please" where I asked if anyone wanted to know that obscure fact. You said yes and that's all the encouragement I needed! :)