Calendrical linguistics: What a wonderfully nerdy combination!

You’ve wondered, I’m sure, about some of our names for the months. Perhaps you are puzzled about why October is the tenth month when the name clearly suggests that it should be the eighth. Similarly for September, November, and December.

But that’s about as far as most of us go.

Classicist Peter Gainsford recently published a fascinating post that goes much further, relating old names for the months to the equinoxes and the solstices, as well as various winter and spring festivals. Did you know that the winter solstice in the old Roman calendar occurred on December 25, which we now imagine to be the birthday of Jesus?

You may think it’s a coincidence, but it’s not (to paraphrase Repo Man). My favorite paragraph—totally new information to me—is this:

Each solstice had two months surrounding it going by the same name: December and January were ‘Former Yule’ and ‘Latter Yule’ (Ærra Geola and Æftera Geola in the Martyrology), and June and July were ‘Former Liða’ and ‘Latter Liða’ (Ærra Liða, Æftera Liða). In ‘leap’ years (an embolismus, in Bede’s terminology) there were three months of Liða in a row.

Categories: Linguistics, Math