As if this February hasn’t seemed long enough, we’re getting an extra day of it because this is a “leap year.” Friday will be Feb. 29 instead of March 1 because 2008 is divisible by 4, and in such years a day is added to make the calendar more closely match the solar year. The sun’s journey from one vernal equinox to the next takes a few hours more than 365 days, which we basically ignore until a leap year, which we give 366 days.
As if this February hasn’t seemed long enough, we’re getting an extra day of it because this is a “leap year.”
Friday will be Feb. 29 instead of March 1 because 2008 is divisible by 4, and in such years a day is added to make the calendar more closely match the solar year. The sun’s journey from one vernal equinox to the next takes a few hours more than 365 days, which we basically ignore until a leap year, which we give 366 days.
Even after such manipulations, says the World Book, the average calendar year is still 11 minutes, 14 seconds too long.
If you think that’s splitting hairs, how about the “leap second”? This tick of the clock was introduced when atomic clocks began keeping more precise time. It’s usually added or subtracted at the end of the year to correct for variations in the Earth’s rate of rotation.
Speaking of atomic stuff, a “quantum leap” (or “jump”) is “a sudden alteration in the energy level of an atom or molecule.” From this specific scientific definition comes the general use of “quantum leap” for “any sudden and extensive change or advance, as in a program or policy.”
So a leap doesn’t have to be a physical act. In fact, “leap” as a noun can be used for any “sudden transition,” nicely reflected in the phrase “by leaps and bounds,” meaning “very rapidly.”
This phrase always makes me think of film footage of a herd of impala on the run. Now that is progressing by leaps and bounds.
Other impressive leapers from the animal world include the Leaping Lipizzaners, a breed of white horses trained to perform precision movements and stunning jumps, and, of course, frogs.
The game of “leapfrog,” which surely was inspired by watching masses of the amphibians hop over each other, also gives us a nice verb for figuratively moving or advancing “in jumps or stages.”
Another figurative use is “leap in the dark,” which indicates a particularly risky proposition.
It’s the sort of situation that gave rise to the oft-heard advice to “look before you leap.” In other words, consider the possible consequences.
But then there’s the “leap of faith,” which can allow a person to follow the heart when the head urges otherwise.
We also can “leap at” the chance to do something without actually moving.
Two other uses spring to mind.
In the traditional song “The 12 Days of Christmas,” one of the more improbable gifts on the list is “10 lords a-leaping.”
Some people contend that each of the gifts in the song is actually a religious symbol and that the 10 lords are the Ten Commandments, although why the Commandments, or the lords for that matter, would be a-leaping I don’t know. I can only dig so far into this stuff.
I’m inclined to buy the other argument that it’s just an old game for expanding the ability of children to remember things.
Finally, since I work for a newspaper, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “leaping lizards,” a favorite exclamation of that icon of bygone days, Little Orphan Annie.
It was one of America’s top newspaper comic strips in the heyday of the Sunday funnies. It was created as Little Orphan Otto by Harold Gray in 1924. On Aug. 5 of that year, Otto became Annie, and the strip ran until Gray’s death in 1968. It’s also the basis, of course, of the Broadway show and movie “Annie.”
And I know just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow, my wife will be singing that song after she reads this.
Barry Wood is a copy editor at the Register Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crossword’s ‘untra’ answer puzzles readers
Crossword fans have been asking if there’s such a word as “untramodern.” Readers trying to solve Tuesday’s puzzle in the Rockford Register Star were left with two puzzling choices: Either the answer to 26 Down, “Sudan neighbor,” was “Ugalda,” or the answer to 37 Across, “Cutting-edge,” was “untramodern.” A Google search yielded a high-tech company called Untra Corp. and some entries touting “untra-quiet” fans, “untra-violet” lights and “untra-sonic” devices, but the only logical conclusion is the last three are typos. So give yourself credit for solving it if you knew the answers had to be “Uganda” and “ultramodern” even though you couldn’t figure out how to write them in.