Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year


Hello, and welcome to "Word Wednesday"! Today we'll talk about vocabulary related to a special event that literally happens only once every four years. It's called "leap year." 

As you have probably noticed, today is February 29th. You probably also noticed that February normally has 28 days, but that every four years we add an extra day to the month. When that happens, we say that it's a leap year, as in "2012 is a leap year" or "I was born in a leap year (1980).Leap rhymes with jeep, sheep, and cheap. Sometimes today is referred to as "leap day."

When I was a kid I always wondered what happened to people who were born on February 29th, especially regarding their birthdays --did they only turn a year older every four years? When I was 12 years old, were a few unlucky classmates technically only 3? Apparently, most people born on leap day simply celebrate their birthdays on February 28th or March 1st, but that's not quite as mysterious or interesting!

So why does a year normally have 365 days, but every four years it has 366 days? You can read here for a detailed explanation, but basically it's because the Earth's revolution around the sun lasts a little bit more than 365 days, so if we didn't have leap years, eventually all the seasons would gradually shift to different times of the year.

It's also a good time to note that in English we generally use ordinal numbers for dates, not cardinal numbers. So, instead of saying "Today is February twenty-nine," we say "Today is February twenty-ninth." In a future post I'll write more about when we use ordinal and cardinal numbers.

Here are some useful vocabulary words for talking about leap year and calendars in general:

leap year - a year that has 366 days instead of 365, by adding February 29th

leap day - February 29th

solar calendar - a calendar based on the sun, like the Gregorian calendar (the one we most often use in the USA and most of the western world)

lunar calendar - a calendar based on the moon, like the one used in much of the Islamic world

cardinal numbers - "normal" numbers; one, two, three, etc.

ordinal numbers - numbers used to "order" or rank things; first, second, third, etc.

(to) turn + (age) - a phrase used to talk about your birthday and your age. For example, "Jane's birthday is tomorrow; she's turning 13." or "He turned 22 on January 18th."

seasons - the different times of year, characterized by changes in weather and day length; the four seasons are winter, spring, summer, and fall/autumn

"thirty days hath September..." - the beginning of a rhyme that children learn to remember the number of days in each month; most children only remember the beginning: "thirty days hath September, April, June, and November" 

So, that's it for the moment. Thanks for reading, and have a great leap day and and even better leap year!

1 comment:

  1. This video has a nice explanation about why we do leap years:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=xX96xng7sAE

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