Friday, February 29, 2008

The ancient Romans didn’t just have a leap day – which incidentally is also known as bissextus, a name that conjures interesting visions of a holiday in which teachers earnestly direct second graders to draw pictures of men and women randomly kissing men and women regardless of sex, bright crayon drawings that will be brought home proudly and put up with magnets on countless refrigerators across the land. Of course the origins of the name are more prosaic.

But I digress. The ancient Romans didn’t just have a leap day, they had a whole leap month – Mercedonius.

Interestingly, Mercedonius was inserted into random years at the end of the year after what the Romans considered the last month of the year, February.

Mercedonius wasn’t supposed to be added randomly, though. The head of state was the one who declared the Mercedonius, which instead of leaving it as a standard part of appropriate years, used it to his advantage to extend days in office for favored politicians. Which was a mess for the Roman population who had no idea when the year would end and the next year actually start. It was great for the head of state, though, several of whom later managed to get other months named after themselves: July for Julius Caesar and August for Augustus.

Does this remind anyone else of a certain American political party with grandiose ideas of power?

Maybe the U.S. will soon have a month called Bushius instead of July.

The Swedish word for the day is skottdagen, which was the Swedish word of the day four years ago. It means, of course, leap day. Or bissextus if that’s your orientation.

- by Francis S.

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