I am a writer and English teacher, and I do not consider myself a grammar fanatic, though I do of course love language, and am fascinated by all of its nuances. I am a firm believer in the idea that the American English language is a living, breathing, constantly evolving organism, and that what may have been true ten, twenty years ago, in some cases may have no place in the language today.
Don’t believe me? Get ahold of any English textbook from fifty or one-hundred years ago, and do a quick compare-and-contrast. Rules, especially in regards to language in all its permutations, are made to be broken. Not all rules, all the time, certainly – but many of them, much of the time.
Many of my fellow writers and (mostly) English teachers will surely disagree with my basic premise, but I ask for their indulgence.
Now that you know my baseline, let us partake in today’s lesson:
Valentine, Valentines, or Valentine’s.
In terms of proper use, this one is sort of the ‘their, they’re, there’ of romance, so strap in for the ride, kids.
First off, from the website Grammarist:
‘The standard spelling of the holiday that falls on February 14th is Valentine’s Day. Valentine is singular and possessive, so it takes an apostrophe s. This is how it is spelled in edited writing everywhere.
The day is named after Saint Valentine. It is his day, hence the possessive. Because there has been only one of him, it wouldn’t make sense to pluralize his name. Of course, one could argue that Valentine now has two alternative senses in which it can be plural—namely, (1) the person one loves on Valentine’s Day, and (2) a Valentine’s Day card—and in light of these, it might make a little sense to spell the holiday Valentines Day. Nevertheless, the form with the apostrophe is the more common one by a large margin.’
Ummm, I respectfully disagree with their logic, in terms of contemporary usage.
Let’s be honest: who is actually spending February 14th celebrating St. Valentine?
Yeah, I thought so. Both of you can skip the rest of my pseudo-tirade.
The possessive form (Valentine’s) makes sense if you are celebrating in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Lutheran traditions, and you are into the whole martyr aspect of good ol’ St. V – but f you are a contemporary, twenty-first century, Hallmark cards, candy-and-flowers sort of person, the possessive form makes little sense for most of the populace. You give not a whit about the saint, but you damn well should about your valentine (Valentine?).
If you know what is good for you.
Because, you, my friend are actually celebrating your Valentine. Hence, ‘Valentine Day’ makes a lot more sense to me, linguistically and logically, than the possessive ‘Valentine’s Day’. Of course, you could argue that throwing that pesky apostrophe in there makes it all about the day being all about YOUR Valentine, and it being ‘his’ or ‘her’ day – but then, that leaves you out of the equation entirely.
In a (grammatically) and overly possessive way, anyway.
Then, of course, there is the also ubiquitous ‘Valentines’ day – no apostrophe, so no possessiveness implied, but a plural nature that screams, in a less-than-romantic imagery, ‘I’m a play-ah!’ If you consider yourself as such, that is all well-and-good, but making ‘Valentine’ into ‘Valentines’ thereby demotes your Valentine from singular, appreciated, lover to part of a throng – not exactly romantic (in most circles) and not to be confused with thongs, which are reasonably effective gifts for your Valentine, not so much for all of your Valentines.
And if you are doing your February fourteenth shopping, in bulk, at Victoria’s Club, we will have to talk privately about a few other things.
And that is my case for the etymological superiority of ‘Valentine’ day over ‘Valentine’s’ or ‘Valentines’ day.
Eat your chocolate hearts out, grammar fanatics.