Happy Freedomary…off to the vomitorium!

I will eat your roses and vomit them at your feet
photo by Richard Gillin via Flickr

Why is February spelled the way it is?

If you go to this Mental Floss article, they promise to explain it. They say it’s because the word originally came to English from French where it was feverier (which, as a word, makes no sense at all because it’s cold in February, not feverish, unless you’re Down Under, right?). Anyway, the English said feverere or feverell instead, because they don’t like the French–never have–so they had to change it, at least a little bit.

Then, Mental Floss says, in the 16th and 17th centuries, England went through an “everything must be Latinized” phase…wait, what? Latin? I thought English was a Germanic language. Oh, oh, I see. The phase they went through was a “Classical things are the best things” phase (sort of like when Americans sometimes start thinking European everything is better than American anything, even chocolate, which is just…craaazy. And except of course for French things, which I’m pretty sure we have decidedly disavowed, even though Freedom Fries never caught on. You have to wonder about Americans sometimes, don’t you? I didn’t ever hear anyone saying we should call February Freedomary! You know…because French. But that’s because Americans are stupid and they don’t know that the word comes from France).

The point being that apparently Latinizing feverere meant making it more like Februarius.

And that’s it. No explanation of what Februarius is at all. So, what is Februarius? Well, it’s the ancient Roman word for February. 

How stupid is that Mental Floss article? February is spelled like that because it comes from the ancient Roman word Februarius. Sheesh. We didn’t have to bring the French into it at all. And Americans are not stupid for not calling February Freedomary, after all.

I’m sorry, America. I shouldn’t have assumed you were stupid. 

Okay, except that we still don’t know why February is spelled the way it is. If you look at the Wikipedia page for Februarius, you find that the word comes from februum, “a thing used for ritual purification.” It seems that most of the rituals in that particular month (added to the Roman calendar along with Ianuarius or January–after the god Juno, don’t even get me started on that I vs. J thing–by Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome) “concerned the dead or closure.” Which makes sense because the month was originally at the end of the year. It was Julius Caesar who changed the beginning of the year from March to January. I guess you can do that when you’re Caesar.

Okay, but where did the word februum come from? Why is it spelled like that? Well, the word is thought to be from the Sabine language and it meant “purgation or purging.”

So, clearly februum originated from the sound a person makes when–or more like after–vomiting. You know. That, “oh god please let it be over” sound. Naturally, then, februum also became the word used for that thing we vomit into. Back in the day, maybe it was just a special bowl, and then they used special bowls like that in their rituals. Today, it’s the toilet. So, if we had purification rituals, we’d be setting up golden toilets on altars, tossing flowers at them, and dancing around them. There’d be a vomit song and we’d gorge ourselves, dance until we were sick, and then we’d call out, “Off to the vomitorium! Off to the vomitorium!” and we’d march into the port-a-potties and vomit. Oh, the joy of rituals!

(Of course, apparently, back in the day, the vomitorium wasn’t a spa where you get to vomit into ritual vomit bowls. It was actually a passageway out of which or into which a large number of people go. Like…vomiting people, not the contents of one’s stomach. But who cares? Language is fluid. So we can call toilets vomitoria if we want.)

And there you have it. Our ritual about death (because you wish you were dead when you’ve vomited everything up, but for some reason you’re still vomiting…because, evolution!) and purification (because once you’re all done you feel so much better and now you’re all clean and pure and can eat more Krispy Kremes, which can kill you [not really] so be careful. Anyway, I’m partial to Dunkin’ Donuts [see my post about said company here–well, about might be too strong a word. Dunkin’ Donuts is discussed. And this Valentine’s Day I’ll be having one of their brownie batter donuts. OMG. I won’t be purging [I hope] because I’ll just be eating one [I think].) gave us the word for February and that’s why it’s spelled like that.

So, technically, if you think about it, February is Monthus Vomitus. (Technically, it would be Menses Vomitus, but nowadays we say menses for menstruation [now there’s an etymology I need to dig into] and I’d rather not discuss that.) The month in which we realize our resolutions have gone to shit and we just give in and eat everything in sight until we feel like vomiting. And it makes perfect sense, now, that Valentine’s Day is in February and guys give girls chocolates. It’s like, a purge gift.

Maybe Freedomary is a better idea, after all.

Okay. I can get back to work now. Happy Freedomary one and all.

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2 Responses to Happy Freedomary…off to the vomitorium!

  1. Jim says:

    Well now, all this is interesting. I think I will stick with the old English, Solmonath, which means mud month. 🙂

  2. Mud is a lot better than vomit, I suppose. 🙂

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