Happy Februum

You may be the kind of person who recognizes the following:

  • The word “September” is related to the French word sept, for seven. (The Latin word for seven is septem.)
  • “October” sounds a lot like the Spanish word ocho, meaning eight, and is related to the word “octopus,” a creature with eight legs. (The Latin word for eight is octo.)
  • It’s no mere coincidence that “November” and “nine” start with the same letter. (The Latin word for nine is novem.)
  • “December” and “decimal” are references to the number ten. (The Latin word for ten is decem. The word “decimate” literally means to reduce by one-tenth, although when we now use that word it suggests a reduction of a lot more than 10%.)

So what gives? Why do the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth months of the year have root words that suggest they should be the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months of the year?

Well, the Romans didn’t have a name for the first two months of the year until the 7th or 8th century BC. January and February were added much later than the other ten months, and originally they were at the end of the year, not at the beginning.

February was named for the Latin word for purification, februum, after a cleansing ritual that was held on the ides of February (February 15th) each year.

The Straight Dope has a good summary of this and an explanation for why February is the shortest month. (It’s probably not because three days were “borrowed” from February and given to other months, which is what I was taught growing up. Instead, it’s just because it was the last month of the year and was therefore the logical one to make the shortest.)

So, this is the month of cleansing and purification. Time for me to focus on that diet….

2 Responses to “Happy Februum”

  1. Dave Zatz Says:

    Or you could just wait on your diet until 3/1, the new year. 😉

  2. Scrappy Says:


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