2020 is a particularly special year. As well as being a palindrome (that is, it reads the same backwards and forwards), it’s a Leap Year. Every four years, instead of the 365 days that we have most years, there’s a year with 366 days: a Leap Year.
Ever wondered why we have Leap Years? Well, it takes the Earth 365.25636 days to make a complete single orbit of the sun (sidereal year), and 365.242189 days to move through all four seasons (tropical year). So the 365 days, with an extra day added in every fourth February, is a way to keep our calendar more or less in line. Otherwise, the seasons would become seriously out of sync: every year they would fall later and later.
It’s not quite as simple as all that, though. Every year that can be divided by four exactly is a leap year, EXCEPT years that can be divided by 100 exactly. So 1800 and 1900 were not leap years, but 1600 and 2000 were.
We also thought it might be quite fun to look at a few idioms and sayings relating to “leap” and a couple of traditions associated with leap years.
Look before you leap – when making a decision, it’s usually a very good idea to take a look at all the possibilities. After all, what exactly IS at the bottom of that cliff the lemmings are about to cheerfully hurl themselves off (in this case, metaphorically)? Is it a trampoline, a nice comfy crash mat, or a rather spiky patch of nettles?
Leap in the dark – if you’re taking a leap in the dark, you’re trusting that your decision will be the right one, or at least beneficial.
Quantum leap - a major increase or advance in knowledge. Since the original term comes from science, specifically physics, you might, however, want to use another word to mean “amazingly large” if you ever find yourself talking to a physicist.
And then there are the traditions associated with leap years. Lots of them relate to getting married, and a few relate to sheep. So in Scotland, sheep farmers may tell you that it won’t be a good year for the flock, and in Germany, there’s a saying that a leap year will often be a cold year, weather-wise. Meanwhile, in Greece, there’s a superstition that if you get married in a leap year, it won’t last, and in Russia, leap years are linked with the type of outlier weather events we’re all becoming more used to.
And the most common tradition is that, in years gone by, 29 February was traditionally the date when a woman could ask a man to marry her, rather than the other way round? In many places these days, women can ask their partners to marry them at any time of year, but we love some of the penalties (allegedly) dished out in the past if a man refused a leap year proposal. They ranged from a fine of money to a set of silk gloves….
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