Word Of The Week: December 12th, 2009

The year is almost over. We’re getting close to the point where I’ll turn off my work computer and say to my co-workers, “See you next year!” And we’ll laugh even though it’ll be true. Sometimes I think it would be funny to say that then disappear until late December of the next year. I’d show up and say, “Well, I told you I’d see you next year.”

The Oxford English Dictionary has a relatively straightforward definition of year that I think most of us would recognize:

The time occupied by the sun in its apparent passage through the signs of the zodiac, i.e. (according to modern astronomy) the period of the earth’s revolution round the sun, forming a natural unit of time (nearly = 365 days); hence, a space of time approximately equal to this in any conventional practical reckoning (considered with respect to its length, without reference to its limits).

I find it interesting that it calls an astronomical year nearly equal to 365 days, since I thought the time it took the Earth to orbit the sun was closer to 365.25 days–hence the need for a leap year with an additional day every four years, except the extra day is skipped in most years ending with 00, and is only included every four-hundred years (1600, 2000, 2400, etc). And in leap years it’s the month of February that gets an extra day. Fans of Frasier probably remember the episode in which Frasier encouraged everyone he knew to “take a leap” on February 29th, with disastrous results.

The whole business with leap years just highlights how hard it is to keep track of time. I’m not sure we’ll ever fully understand it and trying to fit it into such neat categories as seconds and minutes or even weeks and years seems futile. And yet I think every year it’s one leap we’ll always keep trying to make.