Monday, February 16, 2009

trivial presidents

If you do not have enough people avoiding you at parties or dinners these days, here is a bit of trivia that will have you emptying rooms in no time.

Sure, you were able to score intellectual game points by arguing that the 21st century did not begin until 2001 or that a person does not enter their seventh decade until their 61st birthday. You were correct -- and annoying enough that no one really cared.

That was kid's stuff compared to today's holiday.

Here's the question. Is the proper spelling of the national holiday: Presidents Day, Presidents' Day, or President's Day?

The answer? There is no such national holiday. The national holiday is still officially named Washington's Birthday.

The genesis of the current confusion in labeling is rooted in the American federal system. The federal government designated Washington's actual birthday (February 22) as a national holiday in 1885. The day was moved to the third Monday in February in 1971, as part of a move to maximize three day weekends. Because not all states celebrated Lincoln's birthday (due to the mid-eighteenth century unpleasantness), some Congressmen wanted to combine Washington's Birthday and Lincoln's Birthday in a holiday called Presidents' Day. The idea failed to gain traction.

But it did gain traction in several states. In those states, the name is spelled either Presidents' Day or Presidents Day -- with the added confusion of which presidents are being honored.

Of course, the most prominent use of the name is by businesses advertising one of the traditional sales periods -- where Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Jackson, and Grant can all be celebrated by the traditional act of handing their portraits to cashiers. The fact that Hamilton and Franklin get in on the act is simply fortuitous.

I once met a young Irish ship officer who claimed that he was successful in picking up young women because he was able to name each of the state capitals. I suspect he was successful despite the fact that he was branding himself as a geek.

For that reason, I offer my little bet question with the same caveat. Certain wells of knowledge are best not ladled to those you might meet again.

Some of us are beyond social salvation.


Anonymous said...

Geeky or not, your blog is really, really good. Enjoy it every day! Bev

Steve Cotton said...

Thanks, Bev. There are probably a few more packages under the geek tree.

Cynthia Johnson and Mike Nickell said...

I understand someone from The Oregonian is trying to confirm the correct spelling with you...hehehe

Steve Cotton said...

Cynthia -- Ah. A blogger's dream.

I just returned from a long walk with Jiggs. Even though it is a bit chilly this morning and Jigs's back legs are really bothering him, we had a great time. Me reading a Roger Scruton essay, and Jiggs sniffing his pee-mail. A good day for both of us.

Babs said...

"Some of us are beyond social salvation". YUP!

Steve Cotton said...

Babs -- Well, Jiggs thinks I am a lost cause.

Todd said...

Trivia can be much more interesting if you turn it into bar bets.

I have had more than a few free drinks betting which city is further south.

Portland, Oregon
Toronto Ontario


Steve Cotton said...

Todd -- My favorite bar bet is naming the seven dwarfs of Snow White fame. Almost everyone forgets "Doc."

As for Portland vs. Toronto, that is easy. Living on the 45th parallel gives me an advantage, though.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you're list of "spendable" presidents is far from complete. Unless you are for some reason excluding legal tender constructed of metal, you should also mention:

J Q Adams
Van Buren

And yes, I am a geek...

Steve Cotton said...

Ah, yes. Those pesky coins. I admit a certain affection for the new dollar coins. Who would ever think that Van Buren would make it to the big time?

I dissed the coins only for artistic reasons. A list of five creates rhythm. More is mere accounting.

Jonna said...

In Calif, we lost another holiday when they dropped Lincoln's birthday. I particularly disliked losing that one as it was the day before my birthday and allowed me to take off for warmer lands using one less vacation day.

Instead, they rolled it into Washington's birthday and from then on it was always referred to as Dead Presidents Day, plural but not possessive. I thought the rest of the country did the same, perhaps not.

Steve Cotton said...

I knew that the various states had different mixes of celebrating the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln. And I should not have been surprised that the southern states did not celebrate Lincoln's birthday. I still find the mix of state holidays interesting.