What's this about "Bissextile"?

by Paul Bissex, February 29, 2000

Around 46 BC, the Romans realized that their moon-centered calendar was seriously out of whack. Emperor Julius Caesar ordered several significant changes, like naming the calendar after himself.

Oh, and adding an extra day every four years.

Caesar declared that in these years, February 24th would occur twice. This day, the sixth day before the kalendae or beginning of March, was known as the sexto-kalendae. Thus the second one was called bissexto-kalendae, and later simply "bissextile."

(Because the Romans weren't too good at math, they ended up counting these wrong for the next 55 years. Oh well. It's the name that matters.)

Allegedly there was later a town in Gaul called Bissextile; allegedly my paternal lineage extends back to that alleged town.

So, when February 29 rolls around every four years (excepting years that are divisible by 100, but including years that are divisible by 400 — got that?) Bissexes around the world raise their glasses high.