Ego made February our shortest month.
Seven hundred years before Christ, a Roman king named Numa Pompilius expanded the calendar from 10 to 12 months by adding January and February. February had 29 days, with a 30th day added in leap years.
Centuries later, when the emperor Augustus wanted a month named after him, he took over Sextilius, renamed it Augustus or August. But, the story goes, Sextilius had only 30 while July, the month honoring Julius Caesar had 31. Not to be out-dayed by Julius, Augustus added a day to his own month, and took it from February. Maybe he figured February was short a day already, and wouldn’t miss another.
Besides, February probably had no political following, just as it had little good weather. It was named for a purification ceremony that took place early in the month — Februare means “to purify.” Februus was the Etruscan god of purification. Among the Romans, he may have evolved into a she, the goddess Febris, protector against fevers.
Those old English folks, however, had a more practical name for the month. They called it Solmonath — mud month — because that’s when the earth started to thaw.
Cold, snow, mud, fevers. They sound like good reasons to keep February as short as possible.
—J.S.