03 May 2010

Wheezy, Sneezy, and Breezy

Reading this post, with its ruminations on certain individuals' attempts to purify the English language of undesirable elements, made me think of French republicans' efforts to do the same in the 18th century, and in particular their drastic and rather silly reworking of the Gregorian calendar. As we know, anything smacking of l'ancien régime greatly irritated the revolutionaries, who established a committee to rename the months and replace saints' feast days with days commemorated by more sacred objects: nuts, fruits, stones, and various four-legged creatures. This more "rational" calendar would be divided by seasonal equinoxes, with each month consisting of 30 days, and the Christian 7-day week replaced by a decade of 10 days, the décadi (tenth day) being a day of rest from one's labors.

The names of the months were invented words, meant to correspond to the season's weather. Thus, you had:

September/October: Vendémiaire (Roughly translated: Wine-harvest)
October/November: Brumaire (Foggy)
November/December: Frimaire (Frosty)
December/January: Nivôse (Snowy)
January/February: Pluviôse (Rainy)
February/March: Ventôse (Windy)
March/April: Germinal (Seeding)
April/May: Floréal (Flowering)
May/June: Prairial (Grassland)
June/July: Messidor (Wheat-harvest)
July/August: Thermidor (Hot season)
August/September: Fructidor (Fruitful)

The National Convention adopted the new calendar in October of 1793, but backdated it to begin in September 1792. Thus this nonsense continued--causing no little disarray and inconvenience to tradesmen and laborers, who now had to work three extra days before their Sabbath rest--for twelve years, until Napoleon very sensibly reinstituted the Gregorian Calendar on midnight of 31 December 1805.

On the other side of the Channel, Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle proposed Anglicized versions of the months, achieving even greater heights of silliness by coming up with the following: Vintagearious, Fogarious, Frostarious, Snowous, Rainous, Windous, Buddal, Floweral, Meadowal, Reapidor, Heatidor, and Fruitidor. As to the rest of the Brits, who showed far more common sense and wit, their preferred monikers conjure up images of little men dancing convivially in a cottage in some forest glade: Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; and Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety.

And speaking of invented words...

This one was the result of a misreading.