In Praise of Minor Holidays / -day’s / -days’

In New England on the third Monday of April we celebrate a peculiar regional legal holiday: Patriots’ Day. It’s a very local holiday, noted only in Massachusetts and Maine (…and, for reasons which I still need to research, Wisconsin observes it as a public school holiday).

Patriot’s Day commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord, traditionally recognized as the start of the American Revolutionary War (April 19th, 1775). There’s a pre-dawn reenactment on the Battle Green in Lexington (with costumed minutemen and redcoats), all sorts of other commemorations (official and otherwise), the running of the Boston marathon, and an odd but traditional morning home game for the Red Sox. The most noteworthy side effect of the holiday used to be that, because government offices are closed that day, when it interfered with the April 15th deadline for filing taxes, Massachusetts residents got an extra day to file. (That’s no longer true for federal taxes, but we still often get the extension for state returns.)

If you’ve got your editing eyes working today, you’ve noticed that I’ve been inconsistent with where I’ve placed the apostrophe in Patriots’ / Patriot’s above. There’s a reason I feel able to get away with this without retribution:

  • In Massachusetts, the official spelling is Patriots’ Day (plural, possessive).
  • In Maine, the official spelling is Patriot’s Day (singular, possessive).

Strange but true. If you’d asked me out of context how this should be spelled, I’d recommend Patriots’ – we have to assume that the day commemorates the actions of multiple patriots, not a single patriot. But there are often historical quirks that lead to a particular (and apparently “incorrect”) form being maintained, so if Maine wants to punctuate it as Patriot’s that’s their right.  (Lynne Truss gives a number of other good examples of these odd punctuation artifacts in Eats, Shoots & Leaves.)

All possessives (especially plural possessives) seem to cause trouble for writers. The problem becomes more pronounced, or at least higher risk, when the use is in public, such as in the name of a holiday (Patriots’ Day, for example). Inconsistent and incorrect uses seem to proliferate.

Here are just a few inconsistent uses in 2012 (the first two are from the same site; I also won’t be surprised if some of these have been corrected by the time you read this):

Celebrate Patriot’s Day in Cambridge

Celebrate Patriots’ weekend in Arlington

Patriots Day ceremonies in Medford

Patriots Day Events

Events: Patriots Day

(If you look carefully, you’ll notice that even on some of these individual pages the use of the apostrophe isn’t always consistent, with “Patriot’s Day” being the most common – and in Massachusetts, incorrect – form.)

Clearly, it’s easy to go wrong with this. I don’t mean to be too harsh, but it’s disappointing when even the people in towns celebrating these events can’t always get it right. I also don’t want to be too lenient and shrug off inconsistent style or copy editing: more attention should be paid.

That’s the post for today, almost a two-for-one: a very brief history lesson, bundled with observations on the punctuation of a local holiday. If you get today off at your office, enjoy it; if you don’t, I hope you have some other regional or local holiday to celebrate each year (Pioneer Day? Casimir Pulaski Day?). If not, it might be time to create one.

Note: Patriots’ Day, by the way, is not to be confused with the newest legal holiday in the United States, Patriot Day, commemorated by Congressional and Presidential resolution on September 11th since 2002. Patriots’ Day is an official state holiday; Patriot Day is a nationwide “discretionary day of remembrance.”

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About thebettereditor

Chris holds a BA degree in history from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in writing from the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast). He has worked extensively with professional and semi-professional writers and enthusiastic amateurs for about 20 years. He has several years experience in scientific publishing, but has also worked in information technology, insurance, health care, and education (he taught writing at the university level for a number of years). Since 2011, he's also specialized in helping small business meet their writing and editing needs on a budget.
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2 Responses to In Praise of Minor Holidays / -day’s / -days’

  1. Pam Phillips says:

    Eh, I say drop the apostrophe altogether, as you do for “farmers market”.

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