Posted by: episystechpubs | October 31, 2013

Editor’s Corner: Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

So, how did we get from “Happy All Hallows Evening” to “Happy All Hallows’ Even” to “Happy Hallowe’en” to “Happy Halloween”? And what the heck is a “hallow” anyway? Here is a brief recounting of the terms, from Grammar Girl:

One early spelling of "Halloween" was "all hallows’ even," in which "even" meant "evening." The "all" and "s" got dropped, "hallows’ " and "even" became a closed compound, and the apostrophe took the place of the "v," giving us "Hallowe’en"—just one of many transitional spellings along the way to "Halloween."

As far as “hallow,” well, the verb “hallow” means to honor as holy. The noun “hallow” is an archaic term for a saint or holy person. So Halloween is really “All Saints Evening.” Now, suddenly, doesn’t the fact that Halloween is followed by All Saints’ Day make a lot more sense? I think it is interesting that All Saint’s Day, a solemn holiday on which to revere known and unknown saintly people, has taken a definite back seat to an evening of free candy and parties. Sounds vaguely familiar, kind of like Mardi Gras and Lent.

In any case, to bring this around to a punctuation-related point, what about the old-timey spelling of “Hallowe’en”? As Grammar Girl says, the apostrophe is taking the place of a letter that was removed, just as it does in other contractions. Here is the official rule on contractions as stated in the Chicago Manual of Style:

In contractions, an apostrophe normally replaces omitted letters. Some contractions, such as won’t or ain’t, are formed irregularly. Colloquialisms such as gonna or wanna take no apostrophe (there being no obvious place for one). Webster’s lists many common contractions, along with alternative spellings and, where appropriate, plurals.

Note that an apostrophe—the equivalent of a right single quotation mark (’ not ‘)—is always used to form a contraction. For example:

· singin’

· gov’t

· ’tis (not ‘tis)

· rock ’n’ roll

Kara Church

Senior Technical Editor


  1. I had no idea that rock ’n’ roll needed two right single quotation marks. You are the proverbial font of knowledge, and I love your articles!

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