Thank Constantine it's Friday

Hehe, interesting page about the Roman calendar (from which ours is derived). The thing is an utter hack. Did you know that...?

  • ... It may have been God who invented the seven-day week, but Constantine I was the one who actually installed it 1700 years ago?
  • ... The year 2000 was actually one of the least likely dates for the world to end?
  • ... The Romans used to have 10 months per year with 30 or 31 days each? The missing (roughly 61) days in the end were just declared "winter".
  • ... The year used to start in March? It ended with the above mentioned 2 months of winter, from which we today got January and February (after we kicked a rather confused leap-month, Mercedonius). This is why the leap-day is added in February -- at the former end of the year.
  • ... The months September, October, November, and December are named after the Latin words for seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth. However, September isn't the seventh, but the ninth month (etc). This is why this has been pretty much a useless fact since 153 BC, when the beginning of the year was moved to January -- for 'administrative' reasons.
  • ... There even used to be numbered months called Quintilis and Sextilis (the fifth and the sixth)? They corresponded to our July and August (you guessed it, the seventh and the eighth). They were renamed in honor of the Calendar Service Packs Version 1 and 2 released by Julius Caesar and Augustus. Of course you cannot dedicate a lame 30-day month to an emperor; not after another emperor just got a whole cool 31-day month. So Augustus changed the days-per-month so his month could have 31 days too, resulting in the irregular 28/29-30-31-day pattern we have now.

Speaking of which: The above article mentions a pretty confusing English mnemonic, "Thirty days hath September...", to memorize the days per month. WTF? Never heard of it. You know what we learned at school?

Make a fist and look at your knuckles. Start at one knuckle (say, the one below the index finger). Count either a "hilltop" or a "valley" (between the knuckles) for each month. At the last knuckle (below the pinkie finger), you count the hilltop twice, and go back the same way. December will land you on the knuckle below the middle finger.

So what do you get? January, March, May, July, August, October, December are on a "hilltop"; February, April, June, September, November are in a "valley". Rule? Hilltop = 31 days, valley = 30 days, with exception of February. Much easier and more reliable. At least until the next emperor knuckles the whole system in the head.


I once read a fantasy story, the six fingers of time, about a guy who learned to fade into a time dimension 60 times faster than ours. He had the theory that the Babylonians (and other people from this dimension), who basically invented 'modern' time measurement, must have had 12 fingers. Or why else should they have used the dozen (12), the gross (144), 60 minutes (12\*5) per hour, and 24 hours (12\*2) per day, etc? Obviously it was as easy for them to count with 6 and 12 as it is for us to count with 5 and 10 -- right?

Well, there is a very simple explanation that doesn't require 12 fingers. All you need is 12 phalanges! A guy called Scott Reynen puts it very nicely on his page:

"The twelve months on our calendars, twelve hours on our clocks, and twelve inches to a foot all suggest a duodecimal (base twelve) number system, possibly derived from the twelve [phalanges] on the fingers of one hand (not counting the thumb). Duodecimal math is actually simpler than decimal math because twelve has more factors than ten."

Try it: Use the thumb as the pointer and point at the index finger's tip for one, its middle phalanx for two and the base phalanx for three, and so on. The base phalanx of the pinkie finger corresponds to twelve. This way you easily count up to twelve with one hand, while everybody else with the lame 5-finger system only counts up to 5! How stupid is that? Since I read this theory, I started counting with phalanges too, just to freak out the on-lookers with my incredible single-handed counting ability.


You think the geeks' binary system is cool, where you count up to 16 by the fingers of one hand? Oh yeah? Well, the phalanx method at least doesn't make you to use a middle finger gesture for the number 4. :-P


More reliable? It works, so it is just as reliable. I mean, absolutely every time I try it, 30 days hath September. Look at a calendar, I bet September will have 30 days!

Posted by Brian Utterback on October 13, 2007 at 02:46 PM CEST #

Cool! I thought I was clever using Chinese hand shapes to count to 10 with one hand, but I have to admit that 12>10. I'll start using the phanlanges system right away :)

Posted by Ulrike on October 15, 2007 at 02:46 PM CEST #

Brian: I'm just saying that my method does not hinge on peoples' varying (unreliable) ability to learn poems by heart. :)

Posted by Seapegasus on October 17, 2007 at 07:43 AM CEST #

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