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This week most of you are taking your finals and then returning home for the holidays. Your attention is likely to turn away from your studies and towards spreading holiday cheer. As you spread this cheer, you may find yourself composing epistles to those dear to you, and you may begin to ponder some important holiday grammar concerns. I offer you these tips on avoiding the top six grammar mistakes of the season.

1. “Season’s Greetings” Versus “Seasons Greetings”?

The apostrophe bedevils many, but in this case you want to use it because the meaning of the phrase is “greetings of the holiday season.”

2. “The Brights” Versus “The Bright’s” in Signatures?
Yes, again it is the troublesome apostrophe. “Happy holidays from the Brights” is correct because a possessive statement is not needed, but a plural one is–unless, of course, there is only one Bright. (Five Brights are in my household.)

3. “Hanukkah,” “Chanukah,” “Hanukah,” and “Hannukah”?
Hanukkah is one of my favorite words because you can spell it correctly in so many ways: four to be exact. Plus it’s fun to say. Can you think of any other words you can spell correctly four ways? (Let me know, please.)

4. “French hens” Versus “french hens”?
There’s a lot to be said about “the 12 Days of Christmas,” and capitalization is one of them. It always comes back to the distinction between a proper noun and a common noun. French is capitalized in “French hens” because it is derived from the proper noun “France,” while french fries is not considered a reference to France (according to the Chicago Manual of Style), and is not capitalized. When you are frustrated by capitalization, perhaps it is a good time to eat more french fries.

5. “Christmas” Versus “Xmas”?
Some may try and tell you that writing Xmas is to “take Christ out of Christmas,” but the X has been used as a substitute for Christ since at least the fifteenth century, mainly in an effort to save time and money. Using “Xmas,” is more informal, and it should be saved for these kinds of communications, but just because you wish someone a merry Xmas doesn’t mean you’re best friends with Beelzebub.

6. Party time–a.m. or p.m.?
If you write, “Please come at 12 a.m.,” you are having a pajama party whether you want one or not because you’ve told your guests to come at midnight. If you want your guests to arrive at noon, write, “Please come at 12 p.m.” In printed material, a.m. and p.m. usually appear in small capitals without internal space (A.M., P.M.).

Perhaps you’re considering avoiding all the grammar issues by using a social networking site such as Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter to send out one colossal text-like holiday greeting to 798 of your closest friends. Why not? The Pew Internet & American Life Project recently reported that on-the-go Internet users are growing in number, and nearly one in five is tweeting. With a bad economy, wouldn’t it save money to just post or tweet your cheer?

Which got me thinking about the hand-stamped holiday card in an expensive foil-line envelope I received yesterday in the mail. I eagerly opened it as I expected to find warm wishes from a good friend. Instead I found a gold-embossed signature from my dentist. Personal communication, especially ones that are meant for goodwill, should always be just that–personal. We should be cautious about any correspondence that is rote and commercial. No matter what the format, the most important part of any message is the sentiment. Good grammar is just a way to make the sentiment easier to grasp by the reader.

I sure hope my dentist tweets his season’s greetings next year!

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