Saturday, February 12, 2000

The year-II

THE word calendar comes from the Latin calendarium, which was an account book kept by money-lenders. It was called so because interest became due on the calends, the first day of the month. Calends itself came from the Latin calare, to call, because the beginning of each month was proclaimed publicly. The ancient Egyptians were the first to find out how long a year was. They knew that the best time to plant seeds was right after the Nile overflowed each year. Their priests noticed that between each overflowing the moon rose 12 times. So they counted 12 months or moonths, thus figuring out when the Nile would rise again. Incidentally, the Old English word for month was monath. The calendar of a year, months, weeks and days was started by Romulus in Rome, in 738 B.C.

The month of June may have taken its name from two sources. The goddess Juno was the guardian of women, hence, the influx of weddings in June. Then, the Romans called the young people juniores and dedicated this month to them, especially the young soldiers. The Romans had dedicated the month of June to the clan of Junius, as well. The month of July takes its name from Julius Caesar. The famous Roman general Mark Antony had suggested that this birthday month of Caius Julius Caesar be named after him, and the name came into use the year of Caesar’s assassination. Octavian, Roman emperor and nephew of Caesar, longed to gain the fame and power of his uncle. So he wanted to have a month named after himself, too. His birthday was in September, but he selected the earlier month as it had been lucky for him. Since the Senate had given him the official title of Augustus in honour of his services to the state, the month became Augustus, later shortened to August.

  September, October, November and December are the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth months of the year, respectively. However, by derivation they should be the seventh (Latin septem, seven), eighth (Latin octo, eight), ninth (Latin novem, nine) and tenth (Latin decem, ten). So they once were, among the ancient Romans, until the year 153 B.C. Until then their year had started with March. When January was made the first month, the sequence changed, but the names were kept without regard for their numerical significance.

Since the Emperor Augustus had his month and Julius Caesar his, the polite and politically-correct Romans thought it only proper to propose that November be renamed after the Emperor Tiberius. But Tiberius objected and said rather wittily, ‘‘What will you do if you have eleven Caesars?’’


Usage brings about many changes in word meaning. The Hindi truti for instance, means an error, an omission or a deficiency. But in Sanskrit, where the word comes from, it means to break or broke. Break is used in the sense of a glass breaking or a necklace of beads breaking. Through the sense of a break, meaning the appearance of a defect or imperfection, came the sense of an error or imperfection in something otherwise perfect. The next transfer of sense from inanimate to animate can be easily understood in the light of this


This feature was published on February 5, 2000