Leap year
Posted: 05 February 2008 02:06 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Hi. I am an English teacher here in Spain and want to write an article about Leap Year for my students.
I can find loads of information about why we have an extra day every 4 years but cannot find out why “Leap” year.
Does anyone know why? Can anyone help me out?

Thanks

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Posted: 05 February 2008 03:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The idea, according to the authorities I have consulted (including the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology) appears to come from the fact that whereas in an “ordinary” year any given date is the next day of the week on from the day of the week it fell on in the previous year - so that June 16 2005 was a Thursday, June 16 2006 was one weekday further on, ie a Friday, June 16 2007 was another weekday further on, ie Saturday - in a “leap” year the dates of the 10 last months in the year all “leap” one further day on, because of the extra day in February so that this year, 2008, June 16 is not on a Sunday but a Monday.

Medieval Latin apparently used a similar expression, saltus lunae, “moon’s jump”, for the 19-yearly omission of a day from the lunar calendar, which was translated into Old English as monan hlyp, “moon’s leap”.

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Posted: 05 February 2008 06:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The term leap year, however, isn’t recorded in English usage until the late Middle English period. From John de Trevisa’s translation of Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden, 1387:

That tyme Iulius amended the kalender, and fonde the cause of the lepe yere.

As Zythophile mentions, monan hlyp is found in Old English. It appears in AElfric’s De Temporibus Anni, from c.993:

se dæg is gehâten Saltus lune • þæt is ðæs monan hlyp
(the day is called Saltus lune, that is the leap of the moon)

(The OED has this cite, but calls it the Saxon Leechbook, which is a later name for a collection of Anglo-Saxon science texts that includes this work by AElfric.)

And the Old Norse hlaup-ár (leap year) is even older, but AElfric didn’t use that term and his work was the chief Old English one on the subject. The term is also missing from the Old English translation of Bede, who was the ultimate medieval authority on all things calendrical. I’d have to check the other major Old English work, Byrhtferth’s Enchiridion to see if it’s used there, but the OED doesn’t cite it and Byrhtferth mainly copied AElfric, so I don’t think it’s likely to be found there.

(My project for last semester was a translation of De Temporibus Anni, so I’m up on all the source material.)

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Posted: 05 February 2008 12:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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OTOH, although “leap year” is only attested in English back to 1387, the OED2 says that it is “prob. of much older formation, as the ON. hlaup-ár is presumably, like other terms of the Roman calendar, imitated from Eng.”

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Posted: 05 February 2008 02:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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the ON. hlaup-ár is presumably, like other terms of the Roman calendar, imitated from Eng.”

I don’t think I understand this sentence.

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Posted: 05 February 2008 02:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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They are saying that other terms in Old Norse related to the Roman (i.e. Julian) calendar were based on English terms (because the Roman calendar spread to the Norsemen from England?), and therefore hlaup-ár probably was too, even though the earliest known example of the English term in print is rather late.

[ Edited: 05 February 2008 02:27 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 05 February 2008 10:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Thank you. My failure to understand arose from the mistaken notion that Old Norse was an older language than Old English. After reading your posting, I did the reading I should have done sooner, and got a few facts straight.

Ed. Bienvenido a wordorigins.org, Brucie. If you love the English language, an exciting and rewarding experience awaits you here. Stick around.

[ Edited: 05 February 2008 10:42 PM by lionello ]
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