Few things are more annoying than a cranky know-it-all correcting other people’s grammar. I should know. I’m married to an English teacher.
But the older I get, the more compelled I feel to call out other people’s grammar mistakes. I don’t know why that is. I know grammar is arbitrary, a set of rules–unlike those, say, for bridge building or rocket science–whose violation rarely results in catastrophe. Most people make their meaning known without following strict rules of grammar. When the great Woody Guthrie sang, “I Ain’t Got No Home in this World Anymore,” no listener went away confused by the double negative or the nonstandard “ain’t.” And no one was probably impressed by the proper one-word use of “anymore.”
Still, the know-it-all within me awakens whenever I see blatant grammar errors published in official public discourse. That’s why I thought I’d deviate from my usual posts about history and war to talk a bit about grammar. Specifically, the proper punctuation of Veterans Day.
The most common mistake is referring to it in the singular possessive as “Veteran’s Day.” This construction, on the face of it, doesn’t make much sense. Which veteran is the day meant to honor? My Uncle Mike? The head of the VFW? A more logical choice would seem to be the plural possessive “Veterans’ Day,” a day belonging to all veterans.
In fact, Veterans Day is not a possessive at all, and no apostrophe should adorn the term. The word “veterans” in Veterans Day is used in the attributive case, not the possessive, meaning that the word functions as an adjective modifying “day.” It’s an adjunct noun telling us what day it is. It doesn’t belong to veterans. It exists for us to honor veterans.
I realize, of course, that I’m being more than a little peevish in highlighting this grammar distinction. Like I said, grammar rules are arbitrary and, most of the time, inconsequential. That’s why know-it-alls are annoying.
The grammar lesson is over. Perhaps we’ll revisit the issue on Mother’s Day.