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The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Nuts and Bolts: which way to leap.

Today is a leap day, though, hang on, what's leapish about it? 

I mean, changing the calendar so we have to wait an extra day to get to the month of March is making time go into reverse, if anything. So, unless it's possible to leap backwards, (oh, and wouldn't that make the Olympics more exciting?) then leaping is exactly what we are not doing. 

I think I must be missing something here, though, as the Welsh call a leap year bleyddan naid which means jump year. So perhaps there's something in the idea, after all.

In any case, you won't catch the French, Italian or Spanish leaping about on Febrary 29th: they'll be having, not a leap year but a année bissextile, anno bisestile or año bistesto respectively. 

I suppose you could say that if a leap year isn't much to do with leaping then it's not much to do with two sixes (bissextile etc), either: and it wouldn't be, except that the Romans (whose calendar ordinarily involved counting backwards from the next New Moon) put in an extra sixth-day-before-the-New-Moon every so often, and this extra sixth day is still commemorated in the French, Italian and Spanish names.

The fact that it wasn't actually the sixth day before the New Moon, but the fifth, because the Romans couldn't count, just makes my head hurt.

Now, you may think that's complicated enough, but it can be even worse. If you're working on a system like the Hebrew one, then you'll add a whole month seven times every nineteen years - and also sometimes bung in a variable number of postponement days before the start of the year, as well, to even things up a bit.


Anyway, happy leap day. In Northern Europe a lady is traditionally allowed to propose marriage to a man (there are various fines to be paid if the man refuses) but in Greece it's extremely unlucky to be married in a leap year, no matter whose idea it is.

It only remains for me to wish health and happiness to everyone for the next four years,: and especially to leaplings, who are those born on February 29th.

Isn't that lovely?

Word To Use Today: leap. This word has been around for ages. It comes from the Old English hleapen and is related to the Gothic hlaupan.

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