Yes, bissextile. An unexpected word really, and upon my first reading of it I had an instant flash of a decorative tile adorned with an illustration taken from the sealed section of the Karma Sutra. Something not usually found in your average bathroom.
Bissextile, disappointingly, turned out to be nothing so startling. It is another name for today, the extra day falling in a leap year. Bissextile doesn’t really shout calendric term to me.
I am absolutely not a mathematician, words are the thing I love, and that will be fairly obvious to you when I say I can’t work out why on earth bissextile, twice sixth, is used for something that happens every four years. I really wanted to know why, and to share it with you, and I read any amount of explanations. No matter what, nothing made any sense to my brain whatsoever.
The usually helpful thefreedictionary.com confused me even further with the explanation of the latin at the end of their bissextile entry stating it was because the sixth day before the Calends of March on February 24 occurred twice every leap year.
Ummm….yeah…. You can’t see me but I have a glazed look in my eyes.
This article from 1952 tells me that Mrs. Myrom Palmer had bissextile births in both 1948 and 1952. In 2012 her children are now celebrating their 14th and 15th birthdays. An excuse to be cheap on the presents if you are a mean parent!
I love that the doctors estimated the chances of two leap year births happening in one family as one million to one. It is amazing how often that happens, isn’t it? One million to one chances seem to crop up nine times out of ten. (I dips me lid to you, Sir Terry Pratchett)
My current favourite book is the gigantic (1400 page) dictionary of slang written by Eric Partridge (1894-1979).
Without the help of Mr Partridge I wouldn’t have been able to understand many of the obscure words used in the old articles I love. I realized the other day that there was no reason he wouldn’t be referred to somewhere in these newspaper articles so I looked him up. Lo and behold, there is an article about him being awarded a fellowship to begin writing what will end up being ‘The Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang’, yet another book on my wish list.
Eric Partridge was a very interesting man and achieved a lot in one life. He was born in New Zealand and came to Australia in his teens. He served at Gallipoli and was wounded in France. Later, he took up a travelling scholarship at Oxford, lectured at universities in Manchester and London and started a publishing house before writing a variety of dictionaries and books about language. (See http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A110155b.htm for a summary of his biography)
In my readings about him I found his name mentioned regarding a scandalous book called ‘The Sleeveless Errand’ written by Norah James. The book was declared to be obscene and all copies ordered to be destroyed. Mr Partridge owned the publisher of this book, Scholartis. He read the book and had suggested that, although horrible, the language mirrored real life in certain parts of the community.
I doubt those people making the decision in court in 1929 were people in the part of society her book used for reference. Banning the ‘degrading muck’ in this book would hardly make the lower classes change their ways would it? I wonder if the language in the book would have been seen differently if it was written by a man.
Obviously the ordered destruction was not as effective as the magistrate would have hoped. I notice that copies of it can be bought on the interweb. Who would have thought of that outcome back in 1929?
If anyone out there has read ‘The Sleeveless Errand’ I would be very interested to know what you thought of it.