Welcome to the em space, a staff writer's commentary page with observations about life experiences in Logan County and beyond. Thank you for visiting.

- Mary Krallmann

This is when eight means 10

October is a misnomer. So are September, November and December, for that matter. For many of us, the problem is clearest in October because of related words we use. If you've met an octopus and counted the tentacles or if you've stopped lately to count the sides of one of those red signs shaped like an octagon, you have the same answer in both cases. However, if you number the months from January to October, you get a different result.

The disagreement isn't really a mathematical problem; it isn't that the early Romans didn't know how to count. (I assume they were more adept with Roman numerals than most of us are today.) Their seventh through 10th months were named very appropriately for the Latin words for seven through 10: septem, octo, novem and decem. They did have a history of rearranging the calendar, however, and with good reason. It kept getting out of step with the seasons, and politically motivated adjustments didn't help any.

At first the Romans had only 10 months and, according to one source, "seem to have ignored the remaining 60 days, which fell in the middle of winter." (This still sounds like an appealing idea to me, especially for severe winters. If everything has to be canceled anyway, it makes sense to omit it in the first place.) Every couple of years they added a short month to try to catch up.

Then a ruler tacked on two months at the end of the year, following September, October, November and December. The idea of the extra months, with names similar to our January and February, was to collect more taxes. Public officials also kept their jobs longer.

If current incumbents or candidates would copy a page or two from those times, we could postpone the upcoming elections, lengthen the campaign, pile up more political contributions and advertising dollars, and maybe even extend the time for harvest, except that the actual seasons would intervene.

Likewise, the early Roman calendar was eventually about three months ahead of the seasons, and something needed to be done. An astronomer who investigated the situation for Julius Caesar suggested a way to straighten out the discrepancy. As a result, they had a "year of confusion" with 445 days. In addition, the beginning of the year, which had been March, was moved back to January.

The original fifth through 10th months, with number-related names, assumed a new position as months seven through 12. The seventh and eighth months were renamed for the emperors Julius Caesar and Augustus. There were attempts in the Roman Senate to change the name of October as well.

One proposal was Antoninus, for another Roman emperor. Of course, that could have caused more calendar problems, if there were eventually more than 12 emperors deemed worthy of such honor. An alternative possibility for October was Faustinus, after Antoninus' wife. The name of the historian Tacitus was still another choice. As it turned out, neither women, historians nor mathematicians had their day (or month). Popular opinion took over, and the former eighth month kept the same name after becoming the 10th month.

That's why I saw October when I changed the calendars. Turning the page on the kitchen calendar covered up a picture of sand dunes that looked much like the growing pile of grain beside the road at Burton View. The new picture is a landscape with fall colors. The change reminded me of cycles of growth and the time for a small chore.

Several amaryllis bulbs spend their growing season with my mother and their dormant period with me. This year, Oct. 1 was the designated date to cut off their remaining leaves and put the bulbs into storage.

Good night, bulbs. Sleep well. It's October and time to rest. We'll wake you up again in the month that says it's the 10th but really isn't.

[Mary Krallmann]      


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