Writing tip: Anniversary — an annual kind of word


Photo by Daphne Cholet via Flickr Creative Commons

As the year end and new year approach, I thought it was a good time to discuss a year-related word and deal with something that has bothered me for a long time.


The word: anniversary.

What bugs me: the way too many people misuse it, as in “first-year anniversary,” or “ten-year anniversary.”
It bothers me because the word “year” in unnecessary in this usage. According to the Oxford dictionary, “anniversary” means

“the yearly return of a date on which an event took place in a previous year.”

According to some cursory and largely unnecessary research—all literate English speakers should know this—it derives from two Latin words: “Annus” meaning “year” and “versus” meaning “turned.” Thus, an anniversary is the turning of a year.
We can speak (or write) correctly of the first, second, tenth or whateverth anniversary of something. To write the “two-year anniversary” means “the two year yearly return of the date.” It’s redundant.
Worse, I hear this misuse from otherwise reputable and well-spoken sources, particularly on the CBC radio. And you know what that could lead to: more and more people picking up on that misuse. As English is a living language, common use becomes accepted and adopted as correct.
Please, join me in this effort: let’s say and write “first anniversary,” “tenth anniversary” and so on, instead of “x-year anniversary”—or worse, “six-month anniversary.”
If we don’t make this effort, this incorrect use will become correct. And I’ll be left irritated by something that used to be wrong, but is now right.
Don’t you hate that?

Have a happy, health and prosperous new year.

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