Short timers

Short timers

Dear Ace: Why is February the shortest month?—Cal N. Dar

We all remember the old rhyme: “Thirty days hath November, and please don’t forget September. But if April and May were candy today, we’d all have a happy tomorrow.” Or wait. Ace is a little confused. But there’s one thing he does know: February is damned short. Rehab programs last longer than February—and Ace should know. Zombies, according to the movies, can take over the world in a February’s worth of days. Ace hit the history books to sort out just why February’s so lacking.

If you think this page looks puny, blame Numa Pompilius.

Remember ninth grade Western Civ class? Remember Plutarch? No? He was an ancient Roman who wrote a big collection of biographies of even more ancient Romans in order to compare them to still more ancient Greeks. It was called Parallel Lives and Ace just wants you to know he actually read a big ol’ chunk of it in order to answer your question. Yeah. You’re welcome. Anyway, according to Plutarch, there was this king of early Rome named Numa Pompilius who decided that he needed to formalize and regulate the calendar, so he set about putting together a calendar from whose boring details Ace will spare you. Numa used most of the old month names, but he added January and February, named after the god Janus and an ancient purification festival called Februa.

In ensuing years, February got shaved down to 23 days, before being bumped back up by famed calendar reformer (Ace thinks he did some other stuff, too) Julius Caesar. Still, it only had 28 days most of the time, and even in leap years, only 29. Why the gyp? It looks like the simple answer is, the Romans just wanted February to be over ASAP. It was cold, they were whipping themselves with cords of goatskin (that’s what that whole “Februa” thing was about, apparently), and spring was on its way. Julius Caesar kept it short when he rejiggered the calendar. So did the Gregorian calendar reformers in the 1500s, and it’s their system we use to this day.

So to recap, why is February so short? Because ancient Romans didn’t like it, Julius Caesar didn’t like it, the dudes who made the Gregorian reforms didn’t like it, and Ace isn’t gonna like it if you keep asking him these kinds of questions about it.

If you think this page looks puny, blame Numa Pompilius.

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