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No foolin’

Posting a blog entry today, I am, of course, tempted to write something farcical, outrageous, or dare I say, even foolish, it being April 1. But humour can be a dangerous thing when shared with readers unknown, as some journalists have learned, being fired for their springtime “news items” jokes. Other so-called jokes have gone seriously wrong, and I had no appetite for being included in this year’s list of disasters.

In reading about the many April 1 missteps, my inner copy editor focused on the humble apostrophe. I read about April Fool’s Day, April Fools’ Day, and April Fools Day.

Which is correct? I wondered. Singular possessive? Plural possessive? The noun being used attributively?

The Oxford English Dictionary’s first choice is April Fool’s Day, but offers up April Fools’ as an alternative. The Canadian Oxford lists only Fool’s. Perhaps we Canadians can’t abide the thought of there being more than one fool per day.

I consulted several other dictionaries I have on my shelf: Nelson Canadian favours Fools’ (but I’m sure not fools), as does Gage Canadian. Webster’s allows both the singular and plural possessive.

Grammar Girl weighed in a few years ago, explaining simply, “[It] is the day of fools, so the correct spelling is April Fools’ Day.”

Copy editors spend a lot of time delving into sources to find the answers to such questions. When the client’s clock is ticking, at some point you have to make a defensible decision, always following the mantra, of course, “Be consistent.”

Or … you could avoid the question altogether and this year take up the French tradition of poisson d’avril. I learned about “the April fish” when my children were in the elementary years of French Immersion. Their challenge was to paste a cut-out paper fish on a schoolmate’s back, without the victim (the poisson d’avril) noticing. No worry in this case about the apostrophe, of course. And I certainly don’t recall the teacher—or any of the children—consulting dictionaries before jumping into the fun!

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