or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, October 31, 2005


After all these years, I suppose it's time I finally gave up on Hallowe'en. Not the holiday; the spelling.

That's how they used to spell it when I was a sprat. That spelling was insisted upon, in fact; any other way--the other way, I suppose--was red-penciled.

The reason it's "Hallowe'en" and not "Halloween", we were told, is that the word is a contraction, and contractions contain apostrophes. Why? They just do. Sit up straight, put down that protractor, and pay attention.

"Hallowe'en" is a contraction of "All Hallows' Evening". Nowadays we know "hallow" only as a verb meaning "to revere" or "to make holy" and as its adjectival form "hallowed", so "hallows'" looks strange, but the word began life as a noun meaning "holy man" and later "saint", from an Indo-European root that also gave us, eventually, "whole" and then "wholesome" and also "hale" (both meaning "healthy" in slightly different ways), as well as "holy". (Didn't you always suspect that "holy" and "wholly" were related somehow?)

All Hallows' Evening, then, was the night before All Hallows' Day, or All Saint's Day. In Celtic times, the last day of October--which is to say the last day of fall and also the last day of the Celtic new year--was when the spirits of the dead could walk the earth, getting rather ineffectual vengeance by playing tricks; the living made offerings of food to the spirits as a bribe or dressed like the dead to fool them into leaving the living alone. Christianity, as it did with Christmas, Easter, and a few other holidays, appropriated these traditions as a way of convincing the heathens to convert--"See? We're just like you!"

So: All Hallows' Evening becomes All Hallows' Even--a Middle English abbreviated form which is unrelated to the other "even", meaning "tied" or "level"--which becomes Hallows' E'en and finally Hallowe'en. The apostrophe-less spelling, I admit, is pretty old, too, and there's lots of precedent--Robert Burns used it; but the word is a contraction, that apostrophe has every right to be there, and I think it looks nicer. Plus, "Hallowe'en" is indisputably correct, which is always nice.

Do schools still do any of what they did when I was a child? Red-penciling, insistence upon correct spelling, and explanations of why the correct is correct and any other way isn't? If they don't, then I can't help but think that they're shirking their duties. I know life has become a little more complicated in the last few decades, what with having to scan the tots for guns and teach them about condoms and such, but there still ought to be enough time left over to teach children the elements of the language they speak.


Blogger Tony Pius said...

But why "All Hallow's" instead of "All Hallows'"? If it's all of them, it's the plural, and I can't see "hallow" pluralizing like "sheep" -- I'm pretty sure it needs the "-s".

(The lesson here may be that usage slackery is omnipresent, afflicting even our forefathers, and that only its form doth change.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005 3:57:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

You're right, I'm wrong, and I've fixed it. It should have been "All Hallows' Eve", and I can't believe I missed that, but it does just go to prove what I repeatedly contend--that you can't copy-edit your own work.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005 5:30:00 PM  
Blogger joanne wardle said...

I never intend to drop the apostrophe!! it's a bit of an issue with me!!! lol

Thursday, October 04, 2007 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After a Google search on the proper spelling of Hallowe'en I came across your blog which was quite interesting. I do have to point out, with your extreme interest in spelling, that you are probably interested in your constant misuse of the quotation marks. Any punctuation that immediately follows a end quote is placed INSIDE that mark. e.g. "Halloween," and "All Hallows' Evening." Just so you know.

Thursday, August 19, 2010 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Octafish said...

I had always spelt it with an apostrophe---it wasn't until I was an adult that I even noticed that others don't. I don't know how I never noticed it before. I first noticed it when I had to do a presentation on Hallowe'en for a bunch of Australians, and all the Google hits I got were without the apostrophe. First, I was puzzled...then I assumed it was an American thing (which would seem to explain why I didn't notice it until after I left Canada). Now it seems that "Halloween" usage outdoes "Hallowe'en" even in Canada by a ratio of 11 to 1. I guess I'm just unobservant!

I have no intention of changing my spelling, though. The "archaic" spelling just seems more appropriate to the holiday, I think. Plus, force of habit.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 9:25:00 PM  

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