Mistake No. 42: Anniversary!

It is the anniversary of this blog. On 28th February 2010 I made this deposit on the blogosphere - and I refused to clean it up. Gratitude eternal to first-writer-to-comment Lorraine Mace for posting what she posted and not, say, ‘Sigh. Not another writing blog.’

So, ‘anniversary’. ‘The date on which something occurred in a previous year’ is how my Collins defines the word, so the first such date can be safely termed the first anniversary, and the second, the second anniversary, and so forth ad infinitum.

Strictly, then, a term such as ‘three-year anniversary’ is not quite right; after all, you’d never describe such a date as the ‘three-year date’. Just go with ‘third anniversary’ – it’s sharp and simple and correct.

Now then. From this tiny mistake to reach our next one on the error map requires a leap so athletic you may like to warm up beforehand to spare yourself a groin-related mishap. You will be required to hurdle a sign reading ‘The Earth is Flat’ and you will land in a place called Wrongville, the administrative capital of Cockup County, where you will encounter expressions in the local dialect such as – take a deep breath, it could be your last so you’ll be wanting a big one – “six-month anniversary”.

Allow me to put this on record before the convulsions take hold: I can’t remember a single incidence of such an error among my students. Perhaps I’m drunk on some self-satisfied anniversary high, but I refuse to believe aspiring writers would ever do such a thing. Though if you have made this mistake, or do make it, I refuse to blame you or roll my eyes at you, because it’s so frighteningly common it would be easy to suppose it’s acceptable. Google it and you’ll see too many examples, among them efforts from the Guardian and BBC, both of whom should know better. Let’s point at them, while we all feel smugly superior for a bit.

You’ve been with me a while, I credit you with wisdom, and you won’t need me to explain why six-month anniversaries, by definition, cannot exist. We should allow them only in speech, from the mouths of giggly courting couples alone, provided they are sixteen-year-olds or under, and for whom a ‘sixth mensiversary’ (no, I’m not expecting it to catch on either) is probably a significant milestone.

Anniversaries offer a rich source of ideas and potential writing opportunities, but a date six months on is rarely considered one worthy of remarking on in print – unless it’s the mid-way mark to some notable one-year target or endeavour, at which point a half-time reflection may be appropriate. Just don’t call it what I’m begging you not to call it.

Summary tip, then: use ‘anniversary’ as you might ‘birthday’. Nobody says one-year birthday or six-month birthday for a reason.

Right. I want to give a group thanks for reading, following, commenting on and linking to this blog. It’s been as valuable and fun a year for me as I hope it has been for you. I’ve had some welcome appreciative emails too, some suggesting I turn the blog’s central idea into a book. You’ll be either glad, or indifferent, or distressed to the point of actual tears to learn that I’m actively looking into this, and will share any news if and when it presents itself.

For my second year in office I can promise more errors. But I may digress occasionally from them as there are a few issues I’d like to tackle – most urgently, I feel, copyright-grabbing writing competitions – which might not lend themselves tidily to the regular ‘mistake’ format. I hope to do occasional book reviews too. Whether I can suppress the control freak in me to permit a guest blogger remains to be seen…

Again: onwards!

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