Daily Archives: September 8, 2009


One year ago today, I started sending out word tasting notes (the first three, chosen quasi-randomly from Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary – which, come to think of it, I bought 25 years ago almost to the day, along with my University of Calgary stapler and a box of staples I have yet to finish – were agrochemical, stash, and intinction). That makes today the – what? – of word tasting notes.

The first anniversary, of course.

Stick your hand up if you said one-year anniversary. Why stick your hand up? It makes you an easier target. Hold steady, now…

Yes, yes, usage changes in response to popular need, and I’m certainly not a hide-bound prescriptivist. In fact, I’m more descriptivist than most people I know. But every user of the language has a right to encourage changes he or she sees as desirable and to resist changes he or she dislikes.

I do recognize the reason for the increasing trend to specify year before anniversary. People are increasingly celebrating monthly (and even weekly) equivalents. How sentimental and Hallmark-y, but there it is. After all, I still remember when I first met my wife (12 years and 21 days ago). And, unfamiliar with any specific term for a monthly equivalent – there is one, mensiversary, but it’s not commonly known and, for that matter, it’s not especially appealing either – people simply declare, “It’s our one-month anniversary!”

So, given this semantic broadening, it comes to be seen as necessary to specify year when one is speaking of the turn of a year rather than of a month. This in spite of the fact that anniversary comes from Latin for “turning of the year”: anniversarius, from annus “year” (keep both n‘s in or you refer to a rather smaller ring than the one around the sun) and versus “turned, a turning” – both of which are roots that show up in many other places, especially the latter (think of all the words that end in verse and vert). But readers of these notes should well understand that etymology is not a reliable guide to current meaning.

This word is a popular one, because anniversaries are important things, and so it shows up with quite a lot of partners, including many ordinal numbers, wedding, happy (and, on the other side, baby, got you on my mind), and, in the neighbourhood if not right adjacent, various historical events: D-Day, Tiananmen, etc.

The word is a long enough one, eleven letters, but only one dot and one descender, and it all stays in the front half of the mouth. It may have a feminine overtone from the ann, and a variety of echoes come in with the vers (most people probably don’t taste the hint of adversity – well, I hope they don’t). The nominal five syllables of this word can sometimes move towards four, often with a long [r] at the beginning of the last syllable (a similar effect may be had in casual pronunciation of Calgary, for instance). So the word, though long, is over before you know it. Just like a year.