Tag Archives: The Chicago Manual of Style

It’s Not a Foolish Question: A Day Belonging to Fools or a Day for Fools?

Yesterday was April Fool’s Day, and I felt like the biggest fool of them all. Well, I felt more unlucky than foolish: I lost Internet access, and then my laptop died.  It was a cosmic April Fool’s Day prank.

But yesterday reminded me of the variations (and ensuing debates!) I often see in the spelling of such days as April Fool’s. The usual suspects are April Fools’ Day (more than one fool) and April Fools Day (Fools as an adjective).

According to CP Style, the following spellings are correct:

April Fool’s Day

Mother’s Day

Father’s Day

The use of the singular possessive is convention more than anything else — using the plural possessive (Mothers’ Day) would be equally correct.

If you despise the singular possessive being used in this way, you’re not alone. Many people feel that these are days to celebrate all fools and moms and dads — plural, not singular.

According to Wikipedia, Anna Jarvis is the person to blame — at least for Mother’s Day. As the day’s founder, she trademarked “Mother’s Day” because she felt the day should be commemorated by every family celebrating its own unique mother. The use of the singular possessive for Father’s Day and April Fool’s Day is probably for the sake of consistency.

What about forgoing the apostrophe altogether: April Fools Day, Mothers Day, Fathers Day. Without the apostrophe, Fools and Mothers and Fathers become adjectives, modifying day. This would mean that the days don’t belong to the fools, mothers, and fathers, but rather that the days are for these groups. See the subtle difference? CMOS admits this difference “is sometimes fuzzy” and omits the apostrophe only in proper names without an apostrophe (usually corporate names like Publishers Weekly) or where it is clear that the meaning is not possessive.

So when in doubt, keep the apostrophe: girls’ washroom. And for you singular possessive naysayers, try to enjoy Mother’s Day anyway.

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E-Spellings

Compound words often have me reaching for the dictionary to confirm I’ve spelled them correctly. The Chicago Manual of Style confirms that compound spellings are indeed the most common spelling questions for writers and editors. Is the compound in question two words, hyphenated, or closed up as a single word? Non member, non-member, or nonmember? Complicating matters is that the answer can be different depending on whether you’re using Canadian or American spelling. (Chicago specifies nonmember, but the Canadian Oxford Dictionary lists non-member.)

What about those commonly used compounds made with e for electronic? Canadian Press specifies the following spellings:

  • ebook (COD lists e-book)
  • email
  • e-commerce
  • e-reader
  • e-waste
  • e-zine

From this list, it’s obvious that the most common words — ebook and email — have, through common usage, become acceptable as closed compounds. With time, the other words will probably become closed as well.

Chicago, a more literary style guide, recommends that hyphens be used with e compounds.

As always, choosing a style and using it consistently is the important thing.

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