Stop! Grammar Time! The Case of the Missing Holiday Apostrophe

If you’re at all like me (and for the sake of your mental health, I sincerely hope you are not), you often wonder things like “Why does ‘Halloween’ sometimes have an apostrophe between the two e’s?” or “Why didn’t I just wear some dang sunscreen on Sunday?” For the sake of brevity, I will limit myself to addressing the former question today.


Image courtesy of Susan Morrow

The word “Halloween,” as it turns out, has its origins in a Christian appropriation of a pagan festival. This is similar to, you know, nearly every major Christian holiday celebrated today. According to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s blog:

Despite the “pagan” origins and traditions of the holiday, it eventually was transformed into a Christian observance, closely linked to All Hallows Day or All Saints Day, November 1. All-Hallows-Even (that is, evening) is the night before All Hallows Day. The apostrophe in the earlier spelling of Hallowe’en denotes the missing “v” of “even.” You’ll find many “e’ens” in nineteenth-century and earlier poetry.

Leaving out the apostrophe, it would seem, is a shortcut around a shortcut. The laziness in omitting the apostrophe is not a new phenomenon, though, so don’t give me any grief about the younger generation not respecting their elders’ apostrophes. This goes back at least to the era of the Founding Fathers (who were presumably too busy revolutionizing to worry about excess punctuation.) Via Katherine Barber, a/k/a the Wordlady:

Halloween has been written without an apostrophe since at least 1773, according to the OED, and among the people using that spelling were Robbie Burns and Queen Victoria. There is no more reason to spell it with an apostrophe than there is to write “fan’cy” (contracted from “fantasy”), “gam’ut” (contracted from “gamma ut”), “lau’nder” (contracted from “lavender”), or “goodb’ye” (contracted from “God be with ye”). I think you can let it go!

Now you know. If you own a black cat, keep it safe.

Photo credit: Image by Susan Morrow, used with permission.


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