My two-year-old son gave me this great father’s day card this morning (I think mummy helped …), but the wording on the front got me wondering about a small grammar point: is it Father’s Day or Fathers’ Day? (That is, the day for daddy, or for all fathers?)
- Fathers’ Day (1,010,000)
- Father’s Day (227,000)
The plural form wins by a 5:1 margin, but there are still a quarter of a million references to Father’s Day.
So, I went to the source of it all: Hallmark, the greetings card company that has become an eponym for named days (Hallmark holidays). And sure enough, their standard phrasing is Father’s Day (and at 2:30pm on Sunday, it’s not too late to pay them to send a card if you forgot, like someone I’m related to …). This goes against the wisdom of Google and reminds us not to trust Google as a corpus. (I’m actually a little suspicious of the GoogleFight results, because I can’t replicate them with actual Google searches. Any offers how they did it?)
On the other side, there’s a Robin Williams movie from 1997 called Fathers’ Day.
A quick search reveals a lot of advice about the position of the apostrophe in this phrase — apostrophes are a common source of obsession for grammar pedants. Here’s the note from a fairly reliable site:
A number of American Holidays have possessive forms, and are peculiarly inconsistent. “Mother’s Day” and “Father’s Day” are easy enough, one parent at a time, and “Parents’ Day” is nicely pluraiized, as is “Presidents’ Day” which celebrates the birthdays of both Washington and Lincoln. “All Souls’ Day (Halloween),” of course, takes a plural possessive. “Veterans Day” is plural but not possessive, for historical reasons shrouded in mystery. Martin Luther King Jr. Day has no possessive. “New Year’s Day,” “St. Valentine’s Day,” St. Patrick’s Day,” and “April Fool’s Day” all have their singular possessive form, and so, while we’re at it, does “Season’s Greetings.” Note that “Daylight Saving Time” is neither possessive nor plural.
I’m not sure it is this simple, though. In French, today is la fête des pères (Fathers’ Day), presumably because while a person may have only one father, it is all dads who are being fêted today.
Is the plural also more appropriate now given the high divorce rate (my wife sends cards to her father and stepfather) as well as single-sex couples with children who have two fathers?
But however you write it, happy holiday to my dad and all dads out there!