F is for February

Amethyst, the February birthstone

Generally, when I do one of these ABC Wednesday things, I want to convey info that either I don’t think the reader knows, information *I* don’t know (or have forgotten), or possibly both. So what about February conveys that? certainly not Valentine’s Day. Black History Month is too broad. So after even more filtering, I came up with these questions.

What, or who, is February named for? I know that September-December are designated by the 7th through 10th prefixes. July and August are named for the Caesars Julius and Augustus. January, March, May and June come from various Roman and Greek gods, Janus, Mars, Maia, and Juno, respectively. April has something to do with the word open, possibly the same root as Oster/Easter, and/or for a variation on the goddess Aphrodite.

But what of February? The Wikipedia notes: February was named after the Latin term februum, which means purification, via the purification ritual Februa held on February 15 in the old Roman calendar.

OK. So why is it poor February that gets to be 28 days some years and 29 on others? This is something I used to know: February used to be the last month, and so would be the month that would be lengthened or shortened to make the calendar work out. “January and February were the last two months to be added to the Roman calendar, since the Romans originally considered winter a monthless period.”

Did you know that the year 1900 was not a leap year and that 2100, 2200 and 2300 will NOT be leap years?
“In the Gregorian calendar, the calendar used by most modern countries, the following three criteria determine which years will be leap years:
1. Every year that is evenly divisible by four is a leap year;
2. of those years, if it can be evenly divided by 100, it is NOT a leap year, unless
3. the year is evenly divisible by 400. Then it is a leap year.”
So, all of you who will be around in the year 2100, remember that. Expect many misprinted calendars and confused computers.

Why the heck is February so often mispronounced Febuary? The answer: “Although the variant pronunciation (fĕb’yū-ĕr’ē) is often censured because it doesn’t reflect the spelling of the word, it is quite common in educated speech and is generally considered acceptable. [It IS?] The loss of the first r in this pronunciation can be accounted for by the phonological process known as dissimilation, by which similar sounds in a word tend to become less similar. In the case of February, the loss of the first r is also owing to the influence of January, which has only one r.” Other examples given: “beserk” for berserk, “supprise” for surprise, “paticular” for particular, and “govenor” for governor. But they left out the most important examples: “libary” for library, and “libarian” for librarian.

A pop song about when “the music died”, of course, is American Pie, which has this lovely couplet:
“But February made me shiver With every paper I’d deliver.”

Here’s the poem February by Margaret Atwood, which ends: “Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.” Amen to THAT!


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