I hope you won’t get all bent out of shape if I wish you “Happy Holidays.”
It’s instructive to note that the frenzy of the last 20 or so years about whether one has to say “Merry Christmas” is a fabricated battle of the “culture wars.” I will have you know that, when I was a kid—back in the dim, dark past of the 1950s, when I thought all the world was Catholic (or at least that part of it with which I was familiar)—all the Christians I knew (which was everybody) thought nothing of saying “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greeting” instead of or in addition to “Merry Christmas.”
After all, even if you’re a practicing, rigid Christian, you celebrate at least two holidays at this time of year: Christmas and New Year. So why wouldn’t you wish someone “Happy Holidays”—or are they supposed to pick only one of the two to be happy about?
As I grew older and fell in love with a non-practicing Jew (who still celebrated Jewish holidays, just as non-practicing Christians celebrate theirs), and as I became more cosmopolitan in the process, I realized that not everyone celebrated Christmas. I have no problem with being inclusive and saying “Happy Holidays” to include everything from Christmas and New Year to Hanukkah, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, and Festivus. (They’re all celebrations of/variations on the winter solstice, anyway.)
Now, that doesn’t mean I will get offended if someone wishes me “Merry Christmas.” I will wish it right back at them. But neither will I go into paroxysms of rage if someone tells me “Happy Holidays.” How do I know what holidays they celebrate? And who am I to tell them “Merry Christmas,” and nothing else?
Why be a spoilsport at this time of year? You don’t want to be a Scrooge, now, do you? (Sometime, an interesting exercise/column would be to look at all those proper names which have become associated with “generic” character types, Scrooge being foremost among them—although Casanova, Romeo, and Don Quixote are also prominent.)
When I was a kid, Christmas was my favorite holiday. What was not to like?—decorated trees, carols, reindeer, Santa, and presents, presents, presents! Of course, even when I was a kid, there was always some party pooper who was sure to come along and tell me and my classmates, “We mustn’t forget the True Meaning of Christmas”—and I knew I was in for a downer.
Look, whether you care to rejoice in the anniversary of Christ’s birth and all that it means to you or just bask in the secular joys of family, friends, food, and gifts (or both), you ought to be big-hearted enough, especially in this season of giving, to let everyone enjoy it in their own right, in their own way.
(Of course, as a kid, I was ecstatic about getting presents—from Santa and anyone else—and I still don’t mind that, but, as I’ve grown older, I’ve derived so much pleasure from the act of picking out what I think is the perfect present for someone [usually a DVD], putting it in their hands, and watching them open it [hoping for a delighted reaction]. I wish for everyone to have happy holidays—and I also wish that everyone could enjoy Christmas the way I did as a child, without any of the guilt that people try to dump on you. I know this is heretical, folks, but I feel that Christmas is more than simply a religious holiday. In fact, I believe we would all be a lot better off if we could take the Christ out of Christmas and just celebrate the tmas: peace on Earth, goodwill to men [and women], and presents, presents, present. It could be a truly universal holiday. But I digress.)
Typographical Greetings: Signs of the Season
Because it is the season of buying presents and giving gifts, you’re likely to see a couple of unhyphenated signs in stores and newspapers and online. Some will proclaim that their sale is a “limited time offer”; others will insist that this is a “last minute gift sale.”
Limited Time Offer. A “limited time offer” must be, I guess, when you’re offered minutes (for a cell phone)—but with restrictions. Or maybe it means you’re offered watches or clocks—but only a small selection. What the copywriters really mean to say is “limited-time offer”: an offer that’s available for a limited time. But that’s not what the unhyphenated phrase says!
Last Minute Gift Sale. Apparently someone is having a very small (i.e., minute, or minuscule) gift sale, and it turns out to be the last such sale. Of course, I know that they meant “Last-Minute-Gift Sale”—a sale of last-minute gifts, gifts you purchase at the last minute. But that’s not what the unhyphenated phrase says! (Also please note the use of the two hyphens because “last-minute gift sale” [one hyphen] means that someone is selling gifts at the last minute; I guess that could be accurate, but I think the sale of last-minute gifts—i.e., a last-minute-gift sale [two hyphens]—is more correct.)
This next one is not a holiday-advertising mistake (but with a little effort it could be). My wife (that non-practicing Jew whom I mentioned above) showed me an ad touting “our customer’s favorite” (Cape Cod Times Weekend supplement, October 6, 2017), saying it was too bad the store had only one customer. Let’s hope that that one customer buys a lot to keep the store in business and encourages others to come to the establishment so that it might finally get customers, plural, and then could brag about “our customers’ favorite.”
Why do people do this? Why do they want to make a grammarian grumpy when he should be merry?
Of course, sometimes their mistakes do make me merry. Consider the story in The Pratt Tribune of Pratt, Kansas, about an activity for Disability Mentoring Day. The headline read
“Students get first hand job experience”
Now, no one was manually stimulating these students’ sex organs, but you could certainly reach that conclusion based on the unfortunately parsed wording.
If the writer wanted to make his point properly, the headline should have read
“Students get firsthand job experience”
I suppose that “first-hand job experience” might be acceptable, but, according to my dictionary, firsthand is one word.
Similarly, handjob is one word, too. My Word spellchecker doesn’t seem to think so, but, when I googled the term, the overwhelming preponderance of examples had it written thus and not as “hand job,” though, if you wrote “Students get first hand-job experience,” that would pretty much be the equivalent of “Students get first handjob experience.” Which is not what the newspaper article is about.
And, on that note, I bid you
Thank you, and good day.
Anthony Ambrogio, firstname.lastname@example.org