10 Timely Facts About Leap Years

IRINA KROLEVETC/iStock via Getty Images
IRINA KROLEVETC/iStock via Getty Images

Quick question: What are the chances a given person will be born on February 29, a.k.a. a leap day or leap year day? Depending on who you ask (and what century it is), the odds are either one in 1461 or one in 1506. In short, the answer is complicated—just like a lot of other things about this curious calendar date.

1. Julius Caesar understood the need for leap years.

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Established in the year 46 BCE, the so-named Julian calendar was devised by Julius Caesar and the Greek astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria. By this point in history, the traditional Roman calendar had fallen out of sync with the seasons. So at Caesar’s request, Sosigenes reformed it. One of his major changes was the implementation of leap years: Every fourth year, February would receive an extra day. This was meant to keep the new calendar in alignment with the Earth’s position relative to the Sun. Unfortunately, the whole system fell prey to a miscalculation and ended up including too many leap years.

2. The Julian Calendar didn’t exactly fix the leap year problem.

Like many of his contemporaries, Sosigenes believed that each solar year (the amount of time between successive vernal equinoxes) lasted for 365.25 days. Yet this isn’t quite right; as we now know, they last for approximately 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds (ie: 365.24219 days) apiece. Over time, the discrepancy spelled trouble. By 1577, the Julian calendar had fallen 10 days out of alignment, meaning important Christian holidays weren't being celebrated on the proper dates. This prompted Pope Gregory XIII to take action. A commission was established to modify the old calendar and upgrade the leap year system. Thus, the new and improved Gregorian calendar was born. It was first implemented in 1582, and we’re still using it today.

3. Sometimes, we skip leap years.

Under Gregorian calendar rules, certain leap years get skipped. "Century years” like 1700, 1800, and 1900 did not receive leap days, lasting for just the standard 365 days. However, if a given century year is divisible by four, it still gets a leap day, and is thus a bona fide leap year. That’s why 2000 CE was considered a leap year, but the year 2100 CE won’t be.

4. There’s a centuries-old tradition of women proposing to men on leap days.

not specified, Wikimedia Commons//public domain

How this whole trend got started is pretty murky. Saint Patrick was rumored to be an early proponent, and there’s a contentious claim that in 1288 Queen Margaret of Scotland—who was only five at the time—legalized a fine for men who turned down a woman’s leap day marriage proposal. Regardless, the custom has a long history in places such as Ireland, where leap day is also called Bachelor’s Day.

5. There's an Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies for people born on February 29.

“Membership in the society is free, but is restricted to people born on Leap Year Day,” explains the group’s official website. Launched in 1997, the HSLYDB now boasts more than 11,000 members from all over the world. For many of them, a shared pet peeve is websites that consider February 29 an invalid birth date. The HSLYDB has successfully taken Microsoft and YouTube to task over this very issue. It’s also been fighting to get "leap year day" capitalized in dictionaries and acknowledged on calendars. (That fight is still a work in progress.)

6. February 29 has a connection to the Salem Witch Trials.

February 29, 1692, was a dark day in colonial Massachusetts. That’s when the first arrest warrants were issued for what became known as the Salem Witch Trials. By the end of these paranoia-induced hearings and prosecutions, 20 people were executed.

7. Toys “R” Us once came under fire for ignoring leap year kids.

Toys "R" Us invited kids to sign up for personalized birthday cards from store mascot Geoffrey the Giraffe. Sounds cute, right? Well there was a time when leap day babies were left out of the fun due to a programming issue. “How do you explain to a five-year-old that they won’t receive a birthday card from Geoffrey over at Toys "R" Us this year, because the Toys "R" Us computer has no way to recognize their birthday?” asked HSLYDB co-founder Raenell Dawn in 2008. The problem was promptly fixed.

8. Rapper Ja Rule is a leap day Baby.

Rapper Ja Rule attends at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

Variously called leapers, leaplings, twenty-niners, and leap day babies (LDBs), people who came into the world on February 29 are in good company. In addition to Ja Rule, these folks share their birthday with baseball great Pepper Martin and former Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai.

9. A community on the Texas-New Mexico border calls itself the “Leap Year Capital Of The World.”

Anthony, Texas and Anthony, New Mexico bookend the dividing line between their respective states. In 1988, local leapers Mary Ann Brown and Birdie Lewis proposed the greater Anthony area should throw a Worldwide Leap Year Festival on their shared birthday—and did so for several more leap years. The parties featured parades, tours, southwestern dancing, and of course, birthday cake. Past shindigs have attracted LDBs from across the globe—along with thousands of other guests. According to the event's website, they're still looking for a 2020 sponsor, so no details have been confirmed.

10. Movie history was made on February 29, 1940.

At the 1940 Academy Awards, Hattie McDaniel’s performance as Mammy in Gone with the Wind earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She was the first African American to win this particular accolade.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

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10 Words and Phrases That Came From TV Shows

Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Image: iStock.
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Image: iStock.

Television can be a hotbed of creativity (or mediocrity, depending on who you ask). But it's not just characters and storylines writers are coming up with—they also coin words. Here are 10 surprising words that were invented thanks to TV.

1. Poindexter

While this term for a studious nerd might seem very 1980s, it actually comes from a cartoon character introduced on TV in 1959. In the series Felix the Cat, Poindexter is the feline’s bespectacled, genius nephew, supposedly named for Emmet Poindexter, the series creator’s lawyer.

2. Eye Candy

This phrase meaning a thing or person that offers visual appeal but not much substance originally referred to such a feature of a TV program. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), it first appeared in 1978 issue of a Louisiana newspaper called The Hammond Daily Star: “Sex … is more blatant ... ‘Eye candy,' as one network executive calls it.” Ear candy is slightly earlier, from the title of a 1977 album by Helen Reddy, while arm candy is later, from 1992.

3. Ribbit

Think frogs have always been known to say “ribbit”? Think again: According to the OED, this onomatopoeia might have originated on a TV show in the late-1960s. While we can’t say for sure that absolutely no one was making this frog sound before then, the earliest recorded usage found so far (according to linguist Ben Zimmer) is from a 1965 episode of Gilligan’s Island, in which Mel Blanc voiced a character called Ribbit the Frog. This predates the OED’s earliest entry, which is from a 1968 episode of the Smother Brothers Comedy Hour: “That’s right. Ribit! .. I am a frog.”

4. Sorry About That

You've probably used this expression of regret more than once in your life, but did you know it was popularized by Get Smart? It's one of the many catchphrases from the late 1960s TV show. Others include “missed it by that much” and “the old (so-and-so) trick.”

5. Cromulent

Cromulent is a perfectly cromulent word, as far as the OED is concerned. This adjective invented on The Simpsons means “acceptable, adequate, satisfactory.” Other OED words the denizens of Springfield popularized are meh (perhaps influenced by the Yiddish “me,” meaning “be it as it may, so-so,” from 1928 or earlier), d’oh (the earliest recorded usage is from a 1945 British radio show), and embiggen, which first appeared in an 1884 publication by English publisher George Bell: “Are there not, however, barbarous verbs in all languages? … The people magnified them, to make great or embiggen, if we may invent an English parallel as ugly.”

6. Five-O

The OED’s earliest citation of this slang term for the police is from a 1983 article in The New York Times, although it was probably in use long before that. The moniker comes from Hawaii Five-O, which premiered in 1968. In the show, five-o refers to a particular police unit and apparently was named in honor of Hawaii being the 50th state.

7. Gomer

While the word gomer has been around since the year 1000 (referring to a Hebrew unit of measure), the sense of someone stupid or inept comes from the inept titular character in the 1960s show Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. It’s also a derogatory name among medical professionals for a difficult patient, especially an elderly one.

8. Cowabunga

Sure, the 1960s surfing slang might have regained popularity in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s due to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series, but it originated way before then. Chief Thunderthud, a character on the 1950s children’s show Howdy Doody would use it as faux Native American language. After that, it somehow made its way into surfer slang, hence becoming a catchphrase of Michelangelo, the hard-partying, surfing ninja turtle.

9. Har De Har

The next time you want to laugh in a sarcastic, old-timey way, thank Jackie Gleason for popularizing har de har via his iconic 1950s show, The Honeymooners.

10. Spam

So how in the world did spam, originally the name of a canned ham, come to mean junk email or to inundate with junk emails or postings? Chalk it up to Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The food Spam (which stands for either “spiced ham” or “shoulder of pork and ham”) was invented during the Great Depression in the late 1930s. Fast-forward 40-some-odd years and the British sketch comics were singing incessantly about it. This apparently was the inspiration for the computer slang that came about in the early 1990s.