Looking Up: A Moonth By Any Other Name

Nov 20, 2017

Credit By Firkin / creative commons / openclipart

This month's archeo-astronomy lesson takes on a Novemberish tone with guest host Bruce Bookout.

We mark a calendar to help us track our revolution around the sun. Over the centuries we found breaking the year up into smaller portions was useful. Calendars are funny things in that keeping them and naming their parts lends to strange things.    

Several centuries ago cultures broke the years’ worth of days into two groups of counting units.  On the basis that there were seven luminaries of the night sky, the week was established – those luminaries were the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.  The Moon’s revolution drove the next counting unit named the “Moonth”; Ooppss we pronounce it today as “month”.

So where is this leading us?  The Moonth of November was, in the old Roman calendar, the ninth month of a 10 month year.  When the newer calendars came out adding January and February, the old names were kept. November marks the point in the year when cold begins to set in. This association is no doubt why November’s adjectival form, Novemberish, means “dreary.”  In Old English it was called Blōtmōnað, literally “blood-month”; the month of heavy animal sacrifice, when the early Saxons would stock up on food for the winter.

If you’d like to take a closer look at the calendar, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.