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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Once in a Blue Moon

Today is the Blue Moon—the second full moon in a calendar month.

Blue moons happen about seven times every nineteen years.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Featured Comment by Doug (seconded by many other NPR listeners): "Based on a story on NPR last evening, it seems that this was not a Blue Moon and that people have been using the wrong definition since 1946 when it was incorrectly reported in Sky and Telescope magazine.

Idle Response by Mike who actually knows nothing about it: Doug, perhaps that will end up being one of those "errors" that are sanctified by popular acceptance into becoming true. For instance, there is (or was) no such word as "troops"—"troop" (or troupe) is already plural; the singular is "trooper." But I doubt you could convince many Americans, or even many lexicographers, of the non-existence and/or incorrectness of "troops" as a legitimate English word.

(I'm hoping the same thing isn't going to become true of "loose" for "lose," which I think is one of the most persistent misspellings on the internet. Or maybe it just annoys me the most.)

As for Blue Moon, we would probably need the AHED Usage Panel's scientific advisory panel to render a verdict on this one.

Further Comment by dasmb: "I've a degree in rhetoric and agree with Mike—the only definition of a term that matters in terms of effective speech is the one that your audience expects. Dictionaries are a largely academic thing—it doesn't matter if your usage is right by the dictionary, if it contradicts popular belief then it's unsuccessful speech.

"As for me, I'm going to celebrate this lunar event falsely called a Blue Moon with a nice tall glass of Blue Moon, a beer falsely called a Hefeweizen."

25 Comments:

Blogger Max said...

A good night to watch "An american werewolf in London". Not-so-great 80's movie (I must admit I like those, it must be an age thing), with an interesting soundtrack, mostly songs about the moon (a funny version of Blue Moon too).

10:29 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Based on a story on NPR last evening (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10554059) it seems that this was not a Blue Moon and that people have been using the wrong definition since 1946 when it was incorrectly reported in Sky and Telescope magazine.

11:04 AM  
Blogger barkleyk said...

Sky and Telescope are admitting that they made up the whole "2 full moons in a month thing" by mistake:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10554059

It seems that it is actually 4 full moons in a *season*

11:14 AM  
Blogger Michael Czeiszperger said...

There was a segment on NPR on this today-- apparently a blue moon is not the second ful moon in a month:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_moon

11:15 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

No so according to NPR and Night Sky magazine.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10554059

11:15 AM  
Blogger bens0472 said...

Mike -

Yesterday, NPR ran this story contradicting what is, apparently, a misconception about the common folklore and frequency of the blue moon.

Based on their story, the term blue moon actually refers to the occurrence of more than 4 full moons in a season. The name, blue moon, because it was previously used to indicate an event of rare occurrence, was the name given this particular moon (among other moon-names, e.g. Harvest Moon).

11:25 AM  
Blogger Carsten Bockermann said...

Mike,

there seem to be several definitions of what a blue moon is...check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_moon

Carsten

11:50 AM  
Blogger alonzo said...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10554059

1:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Actually, the blue moon thing has been incorrectly described for a long time now! I only know this because NPR had a story today about a mistake in an astronomy magazine back in the 40s that incorrectly described a blue moon as this - it's actually a 4th full moon in a harvest season.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Howard Cornelsen said...

No, that's the old myth, inadvertently perpetrated for many years. Sky & Telescope has come clean and admitted its error:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10554059

--HC

3:01 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

I'm sure you'll get a ton of these from NPR listeners:

The popular definition of a blue moon "two full moons in a month" is actually a misconception first popularized by Sky & Telescope Magazine some time ago. The actual definition is: four full moons in a quarter. How does this matter? I am sure that it does not.

Have a good one anyway!

3:06 PM  
Blogger BlankPhotog said...

Not so fast...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10554059

3:10 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Doug,
Perhaps that will end up being one of those "errors" that are santified by popular acceptance into becoming true. For instance, there is (or was) no such word as "troops"--"troop" (or troupe) is already plural, and the singular is "trooper." But I doubt you could convince many Americans, or even many lexicographers, of the non-existence and/or incorrectness of "troops" as a legitimate English word.

(I'm hoping the same thing isn't going to become true of "loose" for "lose," which I think is one of the most persistent misspellings on the internet.)

We would probably need the AHED Usage Panel's scientific advisory panel to render a verdict on this one.

Mike

3:24 PM  
Blogger dasmb said...

I've a degree in rhetoric and agree with Mike -- the only definition of a term that matters in terms of effective speech is the one that your audience expects. Dictionaries are a largely academic thing -- it doesn't matter if your usage is RIGHT by the dictionary, if it contradicts popular belief then it's unsuccessful speech.

As for me, I'm going to celebrate this lunar event falsely called a Blue Moon with a nice tall glass of Blue Moon, a beer falsely called a Hefeweizen.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Rules of the English language (e.g. spelling, grammar, definitions, etc.) are descriptive, not prescriptive.

It's popular use and understanding that makes the dictionary right, not the other way around.

5:02 PM  
Blogger eolake said...

I just hope that "literally" will not one day actually mean "practically".
The picture of the moon is a nice site on your excellent web sight. :)

7:46 PM  
Blogger Dierk Haasis said...

Mike, sorry to say, but your etymology of 'troops' is not quite right, to be precise your denial of a correct plural is wrong.

While 'troop' is a plural in the same sense as 'police' or 'company' are plurals - an assembly of men and women - you can then assemble several of these to form a herarchically higher plural. In the case of police the English language cops out [sorry] to 'police forces', but companies and troops are the plurals for business and military forces.

Actually 'troops' is not even a new form, it stems back to the middle to late 1500s, same time the singular started to denote a specific group of military unit, to wit, a cavalry unit led by a captain [was extended to mean the same for artillery and armoured units].

A member of the unit is correctly called, as you write, 'trooper' though the use of the singular 'troop' has been adapted in the military in the middle 1800s.

If you need a source, just have a look into the Oxford English Dictionary [or the Shorter version].

1:44 AM  
Blogger christer3805 said...

Anyway, you Americans are ahead of us Europeans. We only had one full moon in May. June is the month when we will have two full moons. One today, Friday, June 1, and the second on Saturday, June 30.

3:02 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Always in thrall to my inner pedant, I feel I must point out that the word "troop" is not a plural. It refers to a body of troopers, sure, but the plural of "trooper" is "troopers". So if for example we have a body of troopers formed into a troop, and then they met another such body, there would indeed be two "troops".

Apparently [thank you wikipedia] in the US army, a "troop" is, in the cavalry, an "equivalent unit to the infantry company, commanded by a captain and consisting of 3 or 4 platoons, and subordinate to a squadron."

"I troop, you troop, he troops, back to our troops."

Robert ;-]

4:29 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Support our soldiers.

Mike

7:59 AM  
Blogger JAM said...

This blog has been a great learning experience for me. I had no idea one could get a degree in rhetoric.

I have a public school edumacation and although I try to spell and use words correctly, I don't get all upset when I screw up and someone calls me on it. I just hit them on top of the head and break both their legs and they never correct my spelling or grammar again.

I have an aversion to tripods too, but for myself, I chalk it up to plain old laziness. But I love the newly coined term you came up with "tripoddy" and will have to start using it. I would like to be more tripoddy in the future.

11:31 AM  
Blogger dasmb said...

"Rhetoric" (the field of study) is only tangentially related to the term we so often attribute to bullshit. It is the study of effective communication -- how to speak, write, take a picture, direct a film or build a user interface in a manner that engages minds and changes opinions and (sometimes) conveys information. Ironically, only when rhetoric is really bad do we tag it with the black eye of being "just rhetoric" -- to the rhetorician, everything's rhetorical, even this post.

Rhetorical theory is sometimes taught as a subset of literature and other times as part of a Classics program, as much of the Western theory of rhetoric comes from the ancient Greeks. It is a common track for speech writers, trial lawyers, magazine editors and -- in my case -- software engineers.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Little Photographer said...

awww such a beautiful image you got there...well done :)

4:49 AM  
Blogger Andrew Darlow said...

I've always loved taking pictures that include the moon, or close-ups of the moon. It radiates a certain energy.

I recently came across this incredible photo of the moon (scroll down a bit to see), as well as the space shuttle in flight:

http://www.wunderground.com/blog/LowerCal/show.html

All the best,

Andrew

---------------------------------------------------
Andrew Darlow
Editor, The Imaging Buffet
http://www.imagingbuffet.com
Author, 301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques:
An Essential Printing Resource for Photographers - http://www.inkjettips.com

1:50 PM  
Blogger Haymiss21 said...

Okay, so this post's title kinda reminds me of the song "Blue Moon", so now i have it stuck in my head. . . great. grrrrr. But i did see an amazing waning moon yesterday at night. It was gorgeous!

2:42 PM  

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