Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Thoughts on The Ides of March and Confusing Greek Letters

Yesterday, March 14th (3/14), we celebrated "Pi Day." Pi*, of course, is the the symbol for the ratio of a circle's diameter to its circumference, and figures prominently in many utterly incomprehensible mathematical equations which exist largely to confuse doomed students. It is a fact, although not generally known, that both modern mathematics and rowdy college fraternities would be impossible without Greek letters.

But that was yesterday.

Today, March 15, is the day we commonly know as the "Ides of March." The term Ides comes from the Roman calendar, which organized its months around three days which served as reference points for counting the other days. These were Kalends (the first day of the month, and also the word from which we derive our word calendar), Nones (the seventh day of March, May, July, and October; but the fifth day in the other months), and Ides (the date of the full moon - the 15th day in March, May, July, and October; and the 13th day in the other months). The other days of the month were identified by counting backwards from the Kalends, Nones, or the Ides. For example, March 3rd would be V Nones, or five days before the Nones (the Roman method of counting days was inclusive, meaning that the Nones would be counted as one of the five days).

Didja get that?

We all know the expression, "Beware the Ides of March!", immortalized by Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar - it was the warning shouted at Caesar shortly before he was murdered in the Roman forum. My old high school friends who read this blog may remember a classic twist on this expression from many years ago - there was a popular Pittsburgh television news anchor in the 60's named Carl Ide, who had a notably large family. When he moved to a larger home, the Pittsburgh Press headlined the story, "Beware the March of Ides!"

Anyhow, it's no wonder that the Roman empire didn't last. Between the impossible complexities of Latin grammar (I took Latin for three years in high school, two of them trying to get out of Latin I) and trying to figure out what the date was, the poor Romans never could get their ... uh ... poop in one sock (I used the word poop in honor of Chrissy, the reigning queen of funny poop stories).

And now you have the straight poop about the Ides of March. Ide write more, but now it's time to go to work.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Pi is itself under attack by mathematicians with nothing better to do who want to replace it with another Greek letter, Tau. You can read that perplexing story here.


Gilahi said...

Ide no idea.

Amanda said...

I tried to read that paragraph about the Roman calendar a few times but its still confusing....

Raquel's World said...

I'm with them. Huh?

John said...

Leave it to the linguist to blog about Greek and Latin in the same post!

wv: charchip--n. the dark over cooked potato chips that sneak by QC. (my personal favorites)

allenwoodhaven said...

At work last week I was talking about the Ides of March and no one knew what I meant. Then they insisted that it was the Eyes of March.

A quick google showed them the proper term but apparently it is commonly understood to be Eyes rather than Ides.

Perhaps it was my years of Latin (which makes perfect sense within it's own rules but very little otherwise) and loving Shakespeare, but I never had heard it expressed that way.

Thanks to you, I now know about the confusing Roman calendar. I'm so glad we don't use that anymore!

Mike said...

I actually know more about the Roman calendar than that. But if I told you......

KathyA said...

Yes, Beward the Ides of March. -- Of course, though, we would choose this day to fly!!

Actually, the 15th of March would have been my dad's 37th b-day. What's bad for Caesar isn't necessarily bad for the rest of us!!