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Although I don’t usually talk about medieval times, Monday’s posts are called Medieval Mondays, because I like alliteration. In these posts, I look at the history of the English language.

It’s widely known that “oct” means eight.

An octopus has eight legs, and octagon eight sides, and october is the eighth tenth month of the year.


Actually, September, October, November and December all have Latin roots of a number they have nothing to do with.

Why did this happen?

The calendar used to have ten months: Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December.

The calendar was divided into these ten months which had between 20 and 35 days, but sometimes more depending on the politics of the time. Winter was excluded from the calendar, as the calendar was predominantly for reflecting crop growths and livestock periods.

Numa introduced January and February, and also Mercedinus, a month of 22 days which came after February every second year. January, had 29 days, and came at the beginning of the year, and and put at the beginning of the calendar year. February was 23 days long and came at the end of the year.

When organising days into a calendar, calculations had been done incorrectly, meaning there was no semblance of order. January managed to end up in Autumn, and everyone was truly confused. Sometimes the year was lengthened or shortened in order to satisfy the high priest’s whims on who to keep in office and who to get rid of.

Julius Caesar decided to do something about this, and on the first day of January 709 A.U.C. (ab urbe condita—”from the founding of the city”) or 45 B.C. a new calendar came into being. For the next 1600 years, this was to be the most widely used calendar. (It was our favourite Pope Gregory the Great, the man who introduced the Latin alphabet to the U.K., who made the next changes).

Julius Caesar introduced a calendar that gave 365 days to a year, and also introduced the leap year every third year. He reorganised the calendar so each year would begin on the first of January. After a few years, people began to notice that an error had been made and that a leap year should be every fourth year. As a result, leap years fell in: 45 B.C.E., 42 B.C.E., 39 B.C.E., 36 B.C.E., 33 B.C.E., 30 B.C.E., 27 B.C.E., 24 B.C.E., 21 B.C.E., 18 B.C.E., 15 B.C.E., 12 B.C.E., 9 B.C.E., C.E. 8, C.E. 12, and every 4th year from then on.

To thank Caesar, the Roman Senate renamed Quintilis after him, and so Julius came into being.

When Julius’s grandnephew, Augustus defeated Marc Antony and Cleopatra, and became emperor of Rome, he became a bit arrogant. He decided that he, too, should have a month named after him, and so the Roman Senate renamed Sextillus Augustus.

After all, Sextillus was the month when Augustus “thrice entered the city in triumph… and in the same month Egypt was brought under the authority of the Roman people, and in the same month an end was put to the civil wars; and whereas for these reasons the said month is, and has been, most fortunate to this empire, it is hereby decreed by the senate that the said month shall be called Augustus.”

They also lengthened Augustus to 31 days, rather than 30, so it would match July, Julius’ month. This meant that February had to be shortened to 28 days, or 29 in a leap year.

On top of this, since the months evenly alternated between 30 and 31 days, adding the extra day to August meant that July, August, and September would all have 31 days. To avoid having three months in a row if 31 days, they switched around the lengths of September, October, November and December.

For a short period of time, May was renamed Claudius, April was renamed Neronius. However, these changes didn’t last, unlike July and August.