Happy Leap Day! It’s that odd extra day that we get once every 4 years to balance out the calendar. The Earth actually takes 365 days and 6 hours to revolve around the Sun, so without Leap Day the seasons would eventually be reversed and we would have the summer months in cold weather. We balance out this extra 6 hours a year by adding an extra day every 4 years, except if the year is exactly divisible by 100, when we don’t (like 1700, 1800, and 1900). However, if the year is exactly divisible by 400, like 2000, we still do have a Leap Day. Many countries have it (though not all – read on to find out more!) – so they must have a word for it – how is Leap Day translated into other languages?
Leap day translated into Spanish
día intercalar – meaning an inserted or interpolated day – quite a good description of the act of shoe-horning in that balancing day!
Leap day in French
jour bissextile – derived from the Latin for Leap Year – bissextilis annus. Bi is twice and sextus sixth. At that time the way to add the extra day was by putting it in after February 24, the 6th day before the Calends of March. So the days before the Calends of March were 7th, 6th, 6th, 5th – hence the “bissextile”.
Leap Day in Italian
giorno bisestile – unsurprisingly very similar to the French and with a clear derivation from Latin.
Leap day translated into German
Schalttag – meaning switch or switch over day
Leap day in Japanese
閏日 or うるう日(Urūbi). The first character means Leap or Intercalary and the second means day, so far so standard
Leap day in Greek
ημέρα άλμα (iméra álma). Day plus leap, jump or bound
How is Leap Day translated into Chinese?
This is a bit of a trick question – the Chinese have leap months! This is, because the calendar is based on lunar months. Whenever there are 13 moons from the start of the 11th month in the first year to the start of the 11th month in the next year, a leap month is inserted. The leap month is given the same name as the preceding lunar month, and the term used for this is 闰月 (rùnyuè).
Other Leap Months
Like the Chinese calendar, the Islamic Hijri calendar is based on lunar months. It has 11 leap years in a 30-year cycle, adding an extra day to the last month of the year during the Islamic leap year.
So Happy Leap Day, particularly to everyone who is celebrating their birthday today. To those who aren’t having Leap Day, enjoy your own equivalent calendar-balancing oddity when the time arrives!