Posted by: Jack Henry | December 22, 2022

Editor’s Corner: It’s December!

Why Do We Call the Twelfth Month of the Year December?

Those of you who are interested in etymology may already know that the word December is formed from the Latin root decem-, which means ten. So, what gives? We all know December is the twelfth month. Maybe jolly old St. Nick is playing a joke on us?

Nope. According to an article called Origins and Meanings of the 12 Months, although the Roman calendar had twelve months, they only named 10 of them because winter was considered a “dead period of time when the government and military wasn’t active.” Those crazy Romans only gave names to the months of March through December. But, even way back then, December was considered the last month of the year.

You may also be interested to know that the etymology of some of the other months is also based on numbers: September stems from the Latin root septem-, which means seven, October stems from octo-, which means eight, and November stems from novem-, which means nine).

But not all the names of the months are based on numbers. The month of August was named in honor of the emperor Augustus Caesar. Similarly, July was named after the emperor Julius Caesar, who was born in that month.

Continuing backward, June and May were named for goddesses: Maia and Juno. April is thought to stem from the Latin root aperio, meaning “to open,” alluding to opening buds in springtime. March is named for Mars, the god of war.

And finally, around 45 BCE, the months of February and January got their names. February stems from the Latin Februa, the name of a purification feast held in this month and January from the Roman god Janus.

Getting back to December, though, Old English used to refer to this month as Fra Goal or Gēolmōnað, meaning yule month. And according to How the Month of December Got Its Name, from Dictionary.com:

The early Germanic people referred to this wintry season as yuletide, a two-month period that spanned December and January. Gol means Christmas day or Christmastide (a word for the period from Christmas Eve to related feast days in early January).

Goel is related to the Old Norse jell, the name of the Pagan winter feast lasting 12 days. Many of the customs of the feast of yule influenced the ways that Christmas is celebrated, such as the tradition of burning a yule log at Christmastime. Fun fact: the word jolly may have derived from the same Old Norse root that brought us yule.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the winter solstice, or Festivus, happy holidays to you!

Donna Bradley Burcher |Technical Editor, Advisory | jack henry™

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123

Pronouns she/her/hers

Symitar Documentation Services

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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