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I had so much fun doing a Christmas-themed post last week that I found myself compelled to follow it up with another holiday-themed post. This time it’s Nochevieja y el Día de Año Nuevo, or as people who aren’t still giddy from managing to pass the first quarter of undergraduate Spanish might call them, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.* The obvious question, as with so many holidays, is whether there’s an apostrophe, and if so where it goes. New Year’s is pretty easy; unlike other holidays, there’s only one new year revelant on that day, so neither New Years Day nor New Years’ Day work, because they suggest more than one new year is starting. (This issue of multiple new years was the subject of a brilliant satirical post last year.) The correct version being New Year’s Day is confirmed in Title 5, Section 6103 of the U.S. Code, and the Banking and Financial Dealings Act of 1971 in the U.K.

So maybe New Year’s Day is a bit boring. Where the real fun comes is when you try to pluralize New Year’s Day. Suddenly you have multiple new years, so New Years Days and New Years’ Days become reasonable possibilities again. Since all three are fairly reasonable, the matter would seem to be one of personal taste. If you’re the sort of person who likes to pluralize early in the construction of complex noun phrases, the sort to say things like passers-by or Attorneys General, then go ahead as pluralize the year before possessivizing, netting New Years’ Days. You’ll be in the company of G. E. Sargent and the Charles-Dickens-edited weekly Household Words. If you’re the sort to treat set phrases as a single word, preferring passer-bys and Attorney Generals, leave it as New Year’s Days. It’s been seen in the weeklies Every Saturday (1873) and the Charles-Dickens-Jr.-edited All the Year Round (1894). If you’re indecisive, omit the apostrophe to avoid having to go one way or the other. That’s done by David Jennings (1730) and others, but this approach seems much rarer than either of the apostrophized versions.

Which version’s “right”, though? I think you all know me well enough to know that I’ll defer on that point.

*: It’s sort of sad that I consider this a substantial accomplishment, what with being in my fourth year in a linguistics doctoral program, and given the fact that a moderately intelligent four-year-old could do the same thing if raised in a Spanish-speaking home.

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A lot of people make claims about what "good English" is. Much of what they say is flim-flam, and this blog aims to set the record straight. Its goal is to explain the motivations behind the real grammar of English and to debunk ill-founded claims about what is grammatical and what isn't. Somehow, this was enough to garner a favorable mention in the Wall Street Journal.

About Me

I'm Gabe Doyle, currently a postdoctoral scholar in the Language and Cognition Lab at Stanford University. Before that, I got a doctorate in linguistics from UC San Diego and a bachelor's in math from Princeton.

In my research, I look at how humans manage one of their greatest learning achievements: the acquisition of language. I build computational models of how people can learn language with cognitively-general processes and as few presuppositions as possible. Currently, I'm working on models for acquiring phonology and other constraint-based aspects of cognition.

I also examine how we can use large electronic resources, such as Twitter, to learn about how we speak to each other. Some of my recent work uses Twitter to map dialect regions in the United States.

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