Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Go figure

As we approach the end of the penultimate (i.e., next to last) month of the year, the Word Nerd can’t help pondering the origin of the word we use for it: November. At first I thought the term might have something to do with “new,” as in “novelty.” But no, November, I’ve learned, is a stubborn—and somewhat misleading—remnant from the ancient Roman calendar, which began in March. You may write, as I do, 11/28 for today’s date, but our eleventh month was Caesar’s ninth (novem means “nine” in Latin). This means, of course, that our upcoming twelfth, December, is —you guessed it—the old tenth. This is not higher math. It’s just a good example of what a great, shaggy, unruly garden the English language is, complete with curious roots.


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