The simple definition of the word “annual” is something that is recurring, done or performed every year.  Yet as I was recently reminded by a co-worker the word is misused time and time again and while it’s not a big deal it’s one of those pet peeves that can frustrate you.

First WOBM Christmas Classic flyer

We are always on the receiving end of emails, letters and faxes regarding upcoming events with requests to promote them.  This can be for anything and everything including luncheons and dinners, gift auctions, 5k runs, car shows, golf outings,you name it.

Many of these are first-time events yet the flyer or press release will billboard it as the “first annual.”  What’s wrong with that you ask?   You can’t call a first-time event an annual one because frankly you have no idea if there will be a second. It all depends on the success of the first.  You really can’t claim something is an “annual” event until you have had more than one of them.

The correct word to associate with a first-time event is “inaugural.”  If you have a second one the following year with plans for future ones in subsequent years then and only then can you describe it as an annual one.

Of course there is no law when it comes to this and when organizations use “first annual” it’s as much a statement of their intent as anything else.  They are planning on this fundraiser or whatever every year and likely will do that so by using “annual” they are making it clear that this is not a one-time event.  However at the same time it might show a bit of arrogance because many first-time events never make it to the point where there is a 2nd annual.

When writing this I wanted to see if I myself have violated the “first annual rule” so I went back into the archives and found the program from what should have been called the “inaugural WOBM Christmas Classic.”  Our long-running high school basketball tournament will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this December but when I perused the program from the very first year I saw no mention of “annual” or “inaugural.”  It was simply called the WOBM Christmas Classic in 1984 and 1985 and I don’t have the program from 1986 so I’m not sure about that year.

However in 1987 we clearly referred to it as the “4th annual WOBM Christmas Classic” so I would imagine by then we were committed.  I guess the entire point is this: get through the first one before you call it an annual.