I thought this New Yorker cartoon was pretty cute. The kid is right. Of course, to avoid any controversy, the holiday could be written using the attributive “Mothers” sans apostrophe, but then that wouldn’t really make your own individual mother — or mothers, as the case may be — feel all that special, would it?
This got me thinking whether there are “official” names of the holidays and whether they use the attributive: Veterans Day, for example — you would sound pretty silly calling it “Veteran’s Day” unless, I suppose, you had just one favorite veteran. “Veterans’ Day” includes them all, but then it sounds like it’s their day and they’re all supposed to go out to brunch or NASCAR or something together like we’d do with our moms…and sorry, but most of them are dead.
This is an example of where the attributive makes good sense. That is, the noun “veterans” is really functioning more as an adjective modifying “day” than as a possessive. As it turns out, there are official names for federal holidays — is anyone really surprised? — and this one’s “Veterans Day.” Good call, whoever called that.
What about Presidents Day, you ask? When it used to fall on George Washington’s birthday, “President’s” might have made some sense, except it wasn’t called “President’s Day” back then, was it? That would be kind of like calling World War I “World War I” while it was still going on.
No, that name for the holiday became popular only when it was moved to fall between Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays starting in 1971. So, now that we are honoring two presidents, or the ones born in February, or even all presidents if we’re feeling especially generous, or maybe all but a few, “Presidents’ Day” or “Presidents Day” would make more sense.
So, what is that February holiday now officially called? Brace yourself, kids: