Do you ever get that feeling when you’re writing a word, that you’ve probably seen a hundred times, that it just doesn’t look quite right? And you start second-guessing everything you ever knew about spelling? Is it New Years or New Year’s? Valentines or Valentine’s? These are the kind of mind-numbing decisions that transcriptionists and proofreaders face every single day!
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To my own proofreading shame, after I wrote this post, I noticed my Valentine’s Day flag that I had been using for probably two or three years had the apostrophe wrong! It went to Goodwill in a hurry. When I’m working and I need the final word (pun intended) on a spelling question, I always check Merriam-Webster first.
What does Merriam-Webster have to say?
Merriam-Webster has two listings. One is valentine as a noun. This is the card or gift, or the person receiving the card or gift.
The second is Valentine’s Day as the holiday (also a noun), with the capital V and D and the apostrophe between e and s.
For what it’s worth, either of these could, like any noun, be used as an adjective as well. This is where things can get tricky in verbatim documents.
Q. Mr. Valentine, do you have any hobbies?
A. Ever since I can remember, I’ve collected valentine cards.
Q. What do you do with all the Valentine’s cards?
A. I give them to my valentine and now my valentine’s collecting them, too.
Q. Mrs. Valentine must be happy about that.
A. My valentine’s cards are really special to her. (Oooh, the difference is very subtle here. And you would really need the audio to tell if Mr. Valentine was referring to his wife as the owner of the cards.)
If you don’t have a headache yet…
One more example of the correct usage: On Valentine’s Day I gave two valentines to Mr. Valentine.
Just to keep things interesting, how about when you address your valentine in direct address: “Hello, Valentine”? The capital V there could cause some debate. Morson’s doesn’t recommend capping for terms like “honey” and such. So “Valentine” would be left to the writer’s preference in that situation.
Punctuation has its rules, but definitely leaves room for personal preference in many cases. It’s best to just aim for consistency and move on 🙂