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How to Write About Anniversaries

"Anniversary" comes from the Latin word for "a year," so is it OK to write about anniversaries that are shorter than a year (such as a 6-month anniversary)?

By
Mignon Fogarty ,
July 26, 2018
Episode #631

This week is the 12th anniversary of the Grammar Girl podcast. Yes, 12 years ago, I sat in a coffeeshop on the beach in Santa Cruz, California, jotted three episode ideas on a napkin, and went home and recorded the first shows. 

A lot has happened since then, but one thing that hasn’t changed in 12 years is confusion and irritation about the word itself: “anniversary.”

‘12th Anniversary’ or ’12-Year Anniversary’?

“Anniversary” has the meaning “year” embedded in it. The word comes from the Latin “annus” which means "year" and “versus,” which means "to turn." So an anniversary marks the turning of a year.

That’s why it’s better to say we’re celebrating our 12th anniversary instead of our 12-year anniversary. It’s our twelfth turn of the year, not our twelve year turn of the year.

It’s better to say we’re celebrating our 12th anniversary instead of our 12-year anniversary.

‘Anniversaries’ That Are Less Than a Year?

And although many young romantics talk about celebrating their 6-week dating anniversary, and although it’s cute, it’s technically not correct since anniversaries relate to years. 

Language can change and often deviates from its original literal meaning. I’m sure it won’t surprise long-time listeners when I say that people have been using the word “anniversary” to refer to things that span weeks or months for more than 100 years. Right? For 12 years, I’ve been telling you the thing that annoys you has been going on for a long time. “Anniversary” is used to describe time spans of less than a year so often that this use is included in the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of “anniversary.” American Heritage Dictionary includes it too. The Oxford English Dictionary and dictionary.com are more restrictive in this case, limiting the definition of “anniversary” to an annual event.

Although, I doubt many of us will have much luck trying to convince lovebirds to stick with proper language for dating celebrations, the Associated Press does say to avoid using the word “anniversary” for things that aren’t a whole year. For example, they frown on phrases such as “six-month anniversary.” So if you’re a professional writer, you should still toe the line and write about only yearly anniversaries. If you need to write about shorter milestones, you can try something like “James and Sonja are celebrating 12 weeks of marriage.”

‘Monthsary’

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I do find it interesting that some people have tried to create a word for shorter milestones though. It’d be convenient to have one. For example, in the Philippines, couples celebrate “monthsaries.” They can even buy monthsary cards for each other, but it hasn’t caught on in the United States yet.

That’s your Quick and Dirty Tip: Use ordinal numbers for anniversaries, for example wishing someone a happy 12th anniversary, and for professional writing or if you want to be especially proper, use “anniversary” to refer to only annual celebrations.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

The word "anniversary" has the idea of a year already embedded in it.

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