The Etymology (and Punctuation) of Father’s Day
  • 3-minute read
  • 16th June 2019

The Etymology (and Punctuation) of Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day! And what better way to celebrate than with a little etymology? A slap-up meal followed by a nap in the sunshine, you say? There’ll be time for that later! For now, let’s look at where the word “father” comes from and why we use an apostrophe in “Father’s Day.”

The Etymology of Father

Our modern word “father” comes from the Old English fæder, which meant “he who begets a child.” This is close to several words for fathers in other languages, including Old Norse (fathir), German (Vater), Sanskrit (pitar), and Latin and Greek (both use pater).

In fact, the similarities between these words suggest a common source. As such, most experts trace “father” to a Proto-Indo-European term. And while we cannot know what this was exactly, it may have been something like pəter-.

Fatherhood is tough when your kids look down on you.
Fatherhood is tough when your kids look down on you.

Pa, Papa, Dad, and More

So if “father” comes from pəter-, where does this term come from? It may have evolved from the basic noise “pa,” which we still see in words like “papa.” The words “dad” and “dada” have similar origins in “da,” and we see these simple sounds in words for fathers all over the world.

The main theory for why we see this pattern so much is that “da,” “pa,” and “ta” are some of the first noises babies can make. The same is true of the “ma” from “mama,” which becomes “mom.”

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As such, when babies start making noises like “da” and “pa,” we assume they’re addressing their parents. And over time, this has led to words like “dad” and “pa” entering our everyday speech.

Father’s Day vs. Fathers Day

As a rule, you should always include an apostrophe in Father’s Day. This is the traditional way of writing it, but it also makes sense. After all, you usually focus on your own father on this day. Thus, the “Father” in Father’s Day is typically one person, even if that person is different for each of us.

Writing “Fathers Day” or “Fathers’ Day,” on the other hand, would imply you’re celebrating fathers in general. And while that would be admirable, you’d need a lot of stamps to send a card to every father in the world. All in all, then, you’re probably better off focusing on your own dad for today.

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