Get ready to take one giant leap! by Bob Karolevitz February � the short month � has an extra day added to it in 2004.
The reason? Because it�s Leap Year, that�s why!
I told Phyllis that this would be an easy column to write, but boy, was I wrong.
In the process I ended up learning more about our solar system than I ever really wanted to know.
The calendar, I discovered, is based on the time required for the earth to complete its annual orbit around the sun. That�s 365.2422 days give or take an infinitesimal fraction � so that means we�ve got to add a day every four years to make up the difference.
Are you with me yet?
Astronomers through the years have wrestled with the problem, and none of them knew what to do with that extra part of a day, so apparently they just stuck it onto February and called it even.
Incidentally, February (or Februarius in Latin) was derived from �februare� meaning �to purify.� The early-day Romans had a purification feast.
As an added fact, February was included � along with Januarius � by Numo Pompilius, the second king of Rome (c. 716-673 B.C.), to bring the calendar up to 12 months.
Now you didn�t know that, did you?
The Julian calendar which followed was named for Julius Caesar (100-44) B.C.) who got in the act before he was done in by Junius Brutus. Again his star-gazers had trouble with the partial day.
However, that system was generally used for more than a thousand years, when Pope Gregory XIII was responsible, in 1582, for the Gregorian calendar which most of us have adopted today, with modifications.
The pope decreed that all years divided by four should be Leap Years, except that century years not divided by 400 (i.e. 1700, 1800, 1900 and 3000) were not included.
I lost Phyllis here with all the scientific stuff, plus a discussion of intercalation and lunar cycles. However, appealing to her Norwegian heritage, I got her back by explaining that the leap in Leap Year comes from �hlaupar,� and Old Norse word.
She was also intrigued by the Scottish law, enacted in 1288, which said, in part:
�… it is status and ordainit that … for ilk yeare knowne as lepe yeare, ilk mayden ladye of bothe highe and lowe estait shall hae liberte to bespeke ye man she likes.�
The law also said that if the man refused, it could cost him as much as a pound � unless he could prove that he was �betrothit to ane ither woman.�
That�s about the closest anybody has come to explaining the custom for women, in Leap Years, to take the upper hand in wooing. Of course, that was long before the Age of Feminism.
I pity the folks who were born on February 29. They only have a birthday party every four years.
Be that as it may, I take heart in the fact that now our calendar � according to my trusty encyclopedia � is correct to within one day in 20,000 years.
I should live so long!
� 2004 Robert F. Karolevitz