Maine Sen. Chris Johnson hopes to correct a long-standing error in the state’s punctuation of Patriot’s Day. Here, Johnson speaks at Skidompha Public Library in Damariscotta Oct. 24. (J.W. Oliver photo)
By J.W. Oliver
Maine Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, has been recognized for his work on issues like food safety, public education and the sustainability of Maine fisheries.
Now, Johnson hopes to solve another problem: a long-standing error in the official punctuation of a state holiday.
Johnson recently introduced a bill to change all references to “Patriot’s Day” in Maine law to “Patriots’ Day.”
Patriot’s Day, with an apostrophe and the letter “s” after the singular noun, indicates a holiday of a single patriot. Patriots’ Day, with an apostrophe and no “s” after the plural noun, signifies a holiday of multiple patriots.
The holiday marks the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the April 19, 1775 clash of British troops and colonial militia that began the Revolutionary War. Thus, the holiday recognizes the courage and sacrifice of hundreds of patriots.
“There’s really no reason for us to be spelling it the way we are,” Johnson said in a recent interview.
Johnson introduced the bill at the request of a constituent.
The Legislature will not vote on the bill during its second regular session, which begins in January.
The Legislature can consider only budget bills and emergency bills during a second regular session, and the Legislative Council did not accept Johnson’s bill.
Johnson hopes to convince the Judiciary Committee to incorporate the fix into the corrections bill for the session. Otherwise, he plans to re-introduce the bill if he wins re-election next year.
The mistake amounts to a minor problem relative to other matters before the Legislature, Johnson said, but he still believes it appropriate and necessary to correct it. The mistake changes the meaning of the holiday and sets a poor exampl
e for young students, he said.
“I don’t think we should be modeling incorrect grammar,” Johnson said.
The way state statute punctuates the holiday “should mean that we’re honoring all of the patriots of those battles, rather than one person,” Johnson said.
Maine statute establishes Patriot’s Day as a legal holiday. Banks, schools and state offices close.
Maine and Massachusetts are the only states to recognize the anniversary of the battles as a legal holiday. The states celebrate the holiday on the third Monday in April.
Wisconsin statute designates Patriots’ Day as a “special observance” day, which it observes on April 19 or, if April 19 falls on a weekend, the school day immediately before or after April 19.
Massachusetts and Wisconsin statutes agree on the punctuation as Patriots’ Day.
Why Maine celebrates Patriot’s Day while Massachusetts and Wisconsin – correctly, in Johnson’s eyes – choose Patriots’ Day, is unclear.
A third option also exists – Patriots Day, without an apostrophe.
Newcastle resident Bryan Manahan is the head of the English Department at Lincoln Academy, where he has been an English teacher since 1999.
Manahan agrees with Johnson on one point. The official spelling of Patriot’s Day in Maine “does seem inappropriate,” he said in an email to The Lincoln County News.
The holiday “should not belong to any one individual,” Manahan said. The change to Patriots’ Day to signal “possession by all Patriots” would be an improvement, but Manahan prefers another solution.
“I prefer to see the name of the holiday without any apostrophe at all, thereby describing the day as ‘for Patriots’ but not owned or possessed by them and therefore enjoyed and celebrated by all,” Manahan said.
The apostrophe-less Patriots Day would align with the official spelling of Veterans Day.
As Manahan pointed out, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs justifies this spelling as follows: “Veterans Day does not include an apostrophe but does include an ‘s’ at the end of ‘veterans’ because it is not a day that ‘belongs’ to veterans, it is a day for honoring all veterans.”
Even reference works differ on the punctuation.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary sides with Maine and punctuates the holiday Patriot’s Day.
The AP Stylebook, the self-described “bible of journalists,” does not contain an entry for the holiday, but its punctuation section appears to favor the no-apostrophe version.
The apostrophe entry instructs reporters as follows: “Do not add an apostrophe to a word ending in ‘s’ when it is used primarily in a descriptive sense: citizens band radio, a Cincinnati Reds infielder, a teachers college, a Teamsters request, a writers guide … The apostrophe usually is not used if ‘for’ or ‘by’ rather than ‘of’ would be appropriate in the longer form: a radio band for citizens, a college for teachers, a guide for writers, a request by the Teamsters.”
Johnson said Patriots Day, without the apostrophe, “might be correct,” although it would continue to conflict with Massachusetts and Wisconsin.
Whatever the punctuation, Patriot’s Day still holds an important place in the history of the nation. As a state holiday, it often lacks the fanfare, the ceremonies and parades, of federal holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day.
“Whether this particular holiday, as opposed to the Fourth of July, still ranks in importance in other people’s minds, I can’t speak to that, but it is one of those things uniquely New England,” Johnson said. “We fought those battles here, becoming a country of our own.”
“I guess there are lots of times in this country that different people take more or less notice of … but I still think the idea of honoring people who gave their lives to form this country is an important one,” Johnson said.
Johnson represents District 20, which includes all of Lincoln County except Dresden, the Kennebec County town of Windsor and the Knox County towns of Friendship and Washington.