Column: Solving the apostrophe puzzle


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

I find myself sitting here between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, not knowing who to apologize for the card being late. While I like to blame the postal service, the reality is that I forgot until the day before the holiday. Someone should design a service to send these cards to you, ready to write on and pre-stamped. It would even include a slip of paper with your parents’ address on it, so you wouldn’t have to look it up. I’m just saying.

While I’d love to have other people remember things for me, I have plenty I need to remember myself. Like this: Where does the apostrophe go in the aforementioned holidays? Don’t look in the last paragraph! What do you think? Where should they go?

I’ll cut to the chase: The apostrophe goes before the “s” in both days — Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. The same rule applies to Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve.

To what can we credit the “apostrophe -s” writing of Mother’s and Father’s Day? Look no further than Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day. Jarvis’ (1864-1948) mother frequently expressed the desire for a day to celebrate mothers. After her mother died, Anna Jarvis campaigned to make Mother’s Day a holiday. In 1907, Jarvis led the first public observance of Mother’s Day, and by 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday.

Why the “apostrophe -s” writing? That’s because Jarvis wanted it to be that way. She emphasized that the holiday was to commemorate one’s own, singular mother (as opposed to all the mothers). Hence, the singular possessive “Mother’s.”

Sonora Smart Todd gets the credit for starting the Father’s Day holiday. While listening to a sermon about Mother’s Day in 1909, Todd decided that she wanted to honor her deceased father in a similar way. Although other U.S. presidents supported Father’s Day, it didn’t become an official national holiday until 1972.

Why doesn’t Veterans Day follow suit with the Mother’s and Father’s Day apostrophe pattern? It is plural because the holiday is a day to celebrate all veterans. However, it isn’t possessive because it doesn’t belong to any veteran; instead, it’s a day to honor veterans.

If this essay had a moral, it’s that we will only find that there is more knowledge to cram into our brains. Although, instead of taking time to fill your head with trivia, it’s probably a better idea to call your parents.