#37: Mailbag City

37.1  Dear StolfBack in #34 “Tails or Me?” I noticed that in the Washington family Bible, George’s birthday is given as Feb. 11th…I always thought it was the 22nd. Does this have anything to do with that “double dating” thing?    …from Chunky in Surf City

37.2  Dear Chunky: Kowabunga, dude…you are correctamundo! Here’s the skinny: First, you must remember, in cultures all across the globe at the time, different calendars were in use. Some of them got pretty complicated and convoluted, but then, the pace of life was slower in those days. People had the time to sit around and ponder: I wonder what year this is REALLY? But what we’re talking about is the calendar used in Europe, which naturally carried over into the New World.

37.3  Now the “double” in “double dating refers to the Julian Calendar, which goes back to ancient Roman times…and the Gregorian Calendar, instituted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Some think that Gregory invented leap years to straighten things out, but that wasn’t the case. An extra day every 4 years was the innovation of the Julian Calendar, since the “year” is technically 365 1/4 days long, and this kept the Lunar Cycle and the Equinoxes in order. It worked pretty well, except that the year is actually 11 minutes shorter than that, and that slight discrepancy, over centuries, did shift things out of whack.

37.4  Well, Gregorian reform did a little more than realign the Lunar Cycles and the Equinoxes…the method of determining when Easter occurred each year was also getting out of sync with what was happening in the sky, and that was addressed too, but it’s too complicated to get into here…yeah, people also had the time to sit around and ponder: What DAY is this exactly? I wonder if it’s REALY Easter? For our purposes, the Gregorian Calendar reform did 2 things: first, it made a slight adjustment to the leap years…as it stood, a year divisible by 4 was a leap year…but now…that was except if the year was divisible by 100 and not by 400. Thus, 3 of 4 centennial years (ending in –00) would not be leap years, whereas before all 4 were.

37.5  But the other thing the Gregorian reform did was change the day on which the name of the year changed…again, for complicated historical reasons, the Julian would progress as follows: Dec. 31, 1600 would be followed by Jan. 1, 1600…then, 3 months later, March 24, 1600 would be followed by March 25, 1601. Odd, but that’s just the way it was done…nobody insisted that it make sense.

37.6  Now if all of Europe had been Catholic in 1582, no problem. Unfortunately it wasn’t…Henry VIII, Martin Luther, etc. So various countries switched from Julian to Gregorian at various times…and England (and hence its colonies) was one of the last, in 1752. But since countries did have intercourse with one another (in the old sense of the word, geez, grow up!), and they might be using different calendars, it became common to refer to dates between Jan. 1 and March 24 as OS (old style) or NS (new style), whichever you were using…or alternately, you could give both years for those dates, written as say “1600/1,” or once a decade, “1629/30″…which was called “double dating.”

37.7  So here we see the calendar for 1752, and if you were in England, British North America, various parts of Africa, Australia, or wherever, it was a mixed up year for sure. For one thing, the new year  (i.e. 1752) arrived 84 days earlier than it would have before…altho, to further muddy the water, they always did celebrate “New Years Day” on January 1…go figure. But there was another problem: since the Julian Calendar had more leap days in it than the Gregorian…and mind you, this double-dating deal had been going on for almost 200 years, those on the Julian were 11 days behind those on the Gregorian in terms of what day of the month, or year, it was.

37.9  Thus, besides the name of the year changing earlier, 1752 was also a weird year because 11 days were dropped entirely…yup, Sept. 2 was followed by Sept. 14…in other words, there was no Sept, 3-13 that year. OK, they got used to it, obviously. But for many years later, past dates were still referred to with double-dating, just to make it crystal clear. What’s more, dates before 1752 were retroactively jumped ahead 11 days. Bottom line: when GW was born, it was Feb. 11, 1731. When he was president, his birth-date was what we would call, Feb. 22, 1732, but what they called Feb. 22, 1731/2, Gabeesh? No? I don’t blame you…but you asked, I answered.

37.10  Dear Stolf: I am a big fan of the comic strip “Pickles,” don’t get me wrong…but this one that ran a little while ago seemed wrong to me…care to comment?  …from Pogo, in American Samoa

37.11  Why thank you, Pogo…you remind me of that line from the movie Dr. Strangelove…where Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) is saying to Brig. Gen. Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden): “You with the old gun, and me with the belt and ammo, feeding you, Jack. Feed me, you said, and I was feeding you.” So yeah, thanks for the feed, bro.

37.12  I’ve mentioned this before, what I call “phantom relatives.” The case I used before I believe was “my uncle’s cousin.” How is this not your father’s cousin? Well, there could be several ways, which I’ll get to in a moment. But in general, “my uncle’s cousin” does sound strange, and it’s as ambiguous as all get-out…it could mean your father’s cousin, in which case you should have said that…but then, it could mean something else…and you’d be better off spelling that something else out. “Better” in the sense that folks would then understand who you’re talking about. Yeah, that’s a novel approach, huh?

37.13  But to take the case at hand, the gent reading the paper is Earl Pickles and that’s his wife standing above him, Opal. Now the punch line in panel 4 is OK, and the first 3 panels set it up. Trouble is, they set it up with 2 phantom relatives, and there certainly could have been a more natural way to do it. Chart 132 diagrams it out…

37.14  In a nutshell, Earl’s brother Leon’s nephew Al is also Earl’s nephew Al. And Earl’s nephew Al’s sister Lucinda is also Earl’s niece Lucinda. But then, in panel 2, if Opal had said “You remember Lucinda. She’s your niece”…well, as they said about the movie King Kong…if the door in the wall had been built human-size, too small for Kong to fit thru…”Then we got no story.”  I mean, what could Earl say? “My niece? Who am I?”

37.15  But think of this: what if you referred to someone as “my mother’s son.” OK, technically that could be your brother, or even you, but when it’s put that way,  it sounds more likely to either your half-brother or your step-brother. So what I call a “phantom relative” could be one that’s either a half-relation, or a relation thru marriage, of which there are 2 kinds: thru your marriage or thru somebody else’s marriage (say a parent’s or a child’s marriage.) So in the strip, Al could be Leon’s nephew by marriage…that is, his wife’s nephew…but not Earl’s nephew, since Earl obviously isn’t married to Leon’s wife.  That still doesn’t explain Lucinda…who would still be better described as Al’s niece, not Al’s nephew’s sister…but then I’m not a miracle-worker, am I?

37.16  Dear Stolf: I know this isn’t a genealogy question, but I liked #31: Kate ‘n’ Pearl about the Clampetts and the Bradleys…could you please disabuse your readers of the oft-told fib that the Bradley girls take baths in the town’s water supply?  …from Newt, in Bug Tussle

37.17  Be glad to…and BTW, good old-fashioned word, “disabuse”…meaning to persuade someone that they are in error…probably on the way out today, since it sounds like “abuse,” to which of course it has no connection, but that’s the way it works. But you’re dead on…take a look…

37.18  On the left is a typical municipal water supply. On the right is the type of structure the girls swim in, and that’s water for a steam-engine train (this picture isn’t Hootersville, tho.) It’s much smaller, and in the middle of the picture, you can see the spout that supplies the train when it stops for a refill…done and done. See you in 7…

Wicked Ballsy

Dunno if this happens to you, but when I get really involved in something, I tend to have dreams about it at night. Go figure. Few months back I woke up in the morning with this image in my mind…I don’t recall the exact colors, but these are the exact shapes, or nearly so, and each was a different color. Calgon, take me away…

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Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

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