February Amore: When in Rome, you amateurs


What’s Love got to do with it?  –
famously recorded by Tina Turner,
written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle

Last month, as an amateur writer (I always was and probably always will be), I wrote a piece about January as a pathway for touching on some tidbits of an autobiographical nature, self-reflection, as well as contemporary culture.

And now we are in February, the month of Love, as it brings us both Valentine’s Day, the 14th, and Random Acts of Kindness Day, the 17th.

Gonna geek-out here a bit. February – by virtue of some topics connected to it – is a rather curious month.  It has only 28 days, except once every 4 years when it has 29.  And thanks to Pope Gregory XIII and his attention to astronomers, the 29th day is not added in years ending in 00 – unless the first two digits are divisible by 4 (hence 2000 – with a “20” prefix – was a leap year, whilst 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not).

Curious indeed, and great reminders that there is no reason whatsoever why the time it takes the earth to make a cycle around the sun should be any simple multiple of the time it takes for the earth to spin around itself one time. {Notes on “years” and “days” below [1] and [2] }

Many ancient cultures had calendars. They were necessary for everything from government administration, to drawing and enforcing contracts, and especially for agricultural cycles. As with much else, we can trace our modern Western calendar – and February – back to the Romans.  The Romans had several calendars over the centuries, and sometimes more than one at time.

And we would be correct in guessing that, for quite a while, they had only 10 months per year.  The Roman year began with March, as it is the time of spring and new life.  We can clearly see this in the names of many months that they left for us: September, October, November, and December.  These are ordinal partners for numbers 7 through 10. For parts of Roman history the remainder of the year was a monthless winter period; and would reset as spring approached with March.

Eventually the monthless periods were filled in with January and February … then months number 11 and 12 by the old calendar, and months 1 and 2 by the administrative calendar.

This all changed with Julius Caesar.  He made 365.25 days/year the law of the land and fixed the calendar year at 12 months.  He named the 5th month after his family (July), and deemed it should be 31 days.  So, he nicked a day off the 12th month, February, reducing it to 29.  [Not much later, Caesar Augustus did likewise, reducing February to 28).  And then he moved the beginning of the year for all to January.

The month before spring was a time of cleansing, to prepare for the year ahead, and for the coming seasons of work – in the fields, vineyards, time to make war, etc.  The ritual of cleansing was called “Februa”, related to the verb “to cleanse”: februare.  And, voila, there you have it.

As an unverified side thought: It is possible this is related to the Christian similar season of Lent.  Just a guess, but we do know Jews had done a spring cleaning of sorts for millennia (it’s probably part of the reason the bread at Passover was unleavened), and also performed a new year spiritual cleansing between Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur.


Moving on. February is Cupid’s month, for it gives us Valentine’s Day, a day to honor the emotion of love and praise the ones we love.  For example, Amore.  Love. 

Dean Martin’s Amoré album cover with his smash single: That’s Amoré

I can’t help but think of Dean Martin singing That’s Amoré whenever I hear that word.

And what about related words?  Ami: a good friend or even a lover.  Amiable: kindly, friendly, worthy of love.  Amity: friendly, affectionate, loving (but don’t forget the story and movie Jaws occurred on and near fictional Amity Island). We also get easily to the words enamored and amorous.  And paramour: a lover (although usually used as an illicit lover).

We find it in the girl’s names. Amanda: she who is loved. Amy: a beloved child.

And in the amenities at hotels: things we just love to make our visit a little nicer.

What about that often-pejorative word “amateur”?  Pejorative, as in: “Oh, what an amateur mistake”, and “He’s just a rank amateur.”

What’s love got to do with that? Show me some love here.

An “amator” in Roman times was a friend or lover. But by the time it arrived in English centuries later, it had passed through French, picking up both the Frenchy spelling “amateur” and a somewhat new meaning: someone who does something purely for the love of it.  That is, for personal passion.

Whether it’s a hobby like golf, playing piano, writing, or gardening; or a service to your community, church or synagogue – to be an amateur is to put effort into activities without any financial compensation.  It’s just for the love of it.

To call someone an amateur is not an insult.  It is a complement. It is nearly an act of love itself. It is to identify someone as one who does something simply out of love.  Is there a better reward than love?  Even self love?

So, here’s to February – that weirdest of months.  And here’s to cleansing ourselves, spiritually and physically. And here’s to the amoré, the passion, and the amateur in all of us.  After all: To live is to love.

Peace

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] Actually, what we call a “year” is not quite the same as the time it takes the earth to make one trip around the sun.
It’s the time from one March Equinox to the next.  A perfect 360 degree trip around the sun is a sidereal year; the one we use on our calendars is the tropical year.  They are different by about 20 minutes.  Why? Because the earth’s axis is precessing at a period of about one cycle each 26,000 years.
So, a calendar “year” is not set up to measure the earth’s orbit around the sun, per se.  It is set up to measure the seasons. This is the difference between tropical year (seasonal) and sidereal year (by tracking a presumed motionless star background)

[2] There is no reason to think that the time required for a trip around the sun, or from equinox-to-equinox, should be anything like a simple multiple of the time it takes the earth to spin around itself.
In fact, a single such revolution is not a day.  Not by several minutes.  A “day” is the average time from noon until the next noon.  The current best estimate of “days” per “year” is 365.2425

The length of a tropical year and solar day even drift and wobble.  Perhaps it’s time for a piece on just what “time” really means.  And that leaves us with Chicago (or back then, the Chicago Transit Authority): Does Anyone Really Know What Time it is?

One thought on “February Amore: When in Rome, you amateurs”

  1. Lee Webb

    We used to always get tickets for the Dean Martin TV show tapings in L.A. back in the ’60s. He was a genius, funnier than anyone (especially Jerry Lewis) and a wonderful person. There was one line for the rehearsal, another for the actual taping. We used to go to both by jumping from the rehearsal line to the show line on the way out. The funniest thing was that each joke had a dirty punch line for the taping, a clean punch line for the show. Those of us that saw both shows roared in laughter, remembering the dirty line. I sure do miss those days.

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