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The Story of September

Written By: Youki on September 24, 2011 2 Comments

It still amazes me how I can grow up with a word, know what it means, but not know where it comes from.  In this sense, every word is a bit foreign to me.

Earlier this month I was looking at my calendar, the same way I do every day for work to make sure I don’t miss any meetings.  I’m looking at the word “September” and suddenly the word I’ve known all my life looks foreign to me.  Sept… sept… something’s going on here.  Ah, it’s “seven.”  Makes sense, the 7th month.  It all fits into place now, oct = 8, nov = 9, dec = 10.  Somethin’s off, though.  September is not the 7th month, it’s the 9th month.  I recall childhood memories of the origins of April Fool’s day being the day the calendar changed, and people who still thought that April 1 was the start of the new year were called fools.  As it turns out, that myth is somewhat incorrect.  The previous European calendar, the Roman calendar, started in March with the 7th month being assigned “September” (fun fact: the 5th-10th months were named for their corresponding numerical position, but the 5th month was renamed to July for Julius Caesar, and the 6th month to August for Augustus Caesar).  The celebration of the New Year occurred on March 25 (the vernal equinox, the start of Spring), and lasted until April 1, which explains one of the origins of the phrase “April Fools’ Day” (there are several explanations).  The Roman calendar was also a lunar calendar, with each month having 30-31 days and the calendar only assigning 304 days.  61 days of winter were not assigned to any month.  Eventually, the Roman calendar assigned those 61 days to January and February, occurring at the start of the year, and the position of the months shifted; however, the corresponding names did not switch.  Hence September, which was formerly the 7th month, became the 9th month but still retained its name.

I’m sure this caused a great deal of confusion for people who spoke Latin, but for those of us who don’t speak Latin, a word like “September” is lost in translation.  Being lost, however, only makes the journey much more interesting.

Inspired by History and Memory in Foreign Language Study: Your Stories

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2 Responses to “The Story of September”

  1. daveski on: 25 September 2011 at 8:35 am

    I must have heard about this once but it feels like I’m seeing it for the first time. And why shouldn’t the year begin in the springtime. Most fascinating to me is the idea that “61 days of winter were not assigned to any month”. How amazing to have time that is not accounted for…what would happen in this time? The closest thing I can think of is sleeping time and the days when, because of time differences in trans-pacific travel, you get to “live the same day twice”, or just miss out on almost a whole day going the other way.

    My step is going to be a little lighter today, knowing that, it being only the 7th month of the year, I’m not that behind in writing my dissertation anymore… 🙂

  2. Trip Kirkpatrick on: 26 September 2011 at 6:22 am

    For Western calendars and month naming, I’m partial to the Calendrier républicain (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calendrier_r%C3%A9publicain), which, among other changes, renamed periods for their alliance with natural phenomena or human interaction with same. Periods of harvest, fog, rain, flowers. As I’ve grown reacquainted with the seasons in recent years, I’ve grown to like this system more and more. In a small way — and not a way that I care to expend energy fighting — the words we use for days and months dissociate us from both the basic cosmology of time and from the independence of nature from our petty attempts to divide it.

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