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Berger’s Burg: August has more than just dog days

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The dictionary defines “august” as majestic, grand and imposing.

But that’s not the reason this name was given to the eighth month of the year. If you are old enough to remember, during ancient Roman times (before the drop in the stock market), March was the start of the new year. Mathematically speaking, August was then the sixth month. Its Latin name appropriately was “Sextilis,” meaning “sixth.” (I know what you were thinking — shame on you!) But soon the month was named after a Roman image-seeking emperor named Augustus.

After Julius Caesar was killed (murder was then considered a national pastime and many law-abiding citizens took part), Julie’s nephew, Augie, became emperor of Rome. He wanted to be as powerful and as famous as his grand uncle, Julius.

He knew that the month of July was named for Julie and vain Augie wanted a month named for him also. So he did just that. He gratuitously changed the name of “Sextilius” after himself. Gosh, it was indeed fortunate that his name wasn’t Schwartzenegger or Kiddiddlehoffer.

Although I never learned this in school, I have a strong suspicion that Augie had a nephew named Septembius who followed him, and he, in turn, had a nephew named Octobius who followed him, all leading to the very last nephew, Decembius. (Actually, the prefixes “sept,” “oct,” “nov,” and “dec” are Latin roots for seven, eight, nine, and 10, which was the order of those months in the original Roman calendar). But, names, shmames — if it were up to me, I would have named August “January.” Why, you intelligently ask? Because then we wouldn’t have to freeze ever again on a January morning.

Poor little August has no Western holidays (there is an Asian-Indian holiday of “Rakhee,” which honors the fulfillment of all promises made), but it does boast the birthdays of many of the most distinguished personalities.

These include Francis Scott Key (1); Percy Bysshe Shelly (4): Alex Haley (11); Annie Oakley (13); Napoleon Bonaparte (15); Davy Crockett (17); Orville Wright (19); Count Basie (21); Oliver Wendell Holmes (29); and my non-twin sister and brother, Shirley and Larry (15).

Why am I giving you a brief background of the month? Because everyone thinks that August is just a month of vacations, outdoor concerts, swimming pools and beaches. It has a reputation for being lazy, dull, and simply too hot for any proper month to be. Nothing ever happens in August and journalists view the month as “the silly season,” the uneventful time of year when newspapers are especially desperate for copy.

But, hang on to your string swimsuits, readers. I must tell you that, historically, August has indeed been a month of great happenings. No, it was not the month that Hugh Grant and Puff Daddy first began to notice girls.

Did you know, for instance, that it was on August 23, 1939, that Russia signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany? This paved the way for the Germans' invasion of Poland and the onset of World War II.

Do you remember the month when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 or when the second Soviet coup occurred in 1991? Yes, it was in August.

There are more: Mount Vesuvius erupting and burying Pompeii in 79 AD (the most destructive natural disaster in the history of the Roman Empire); the gathering of the war clouds precipitating World War I in 1914; the first atomic bomb falling on Hiroshima and a second one (three days later) on Nagasaki in 1945, thus hastening the end of World War II; the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961; an American destroyer attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, provoking Congress to pass a resolution that paved the way for our involvement in the Vietnam War; Richard Nixon resigning the presidency in 1974; and Hurricane Andrew ravishing South Florida and Louisiana in 1992.

August has been a time of revolution in popular culture also. It was in August 1922 that New York radio station WEAF broadcast the first commercial in radio history. The movie that many early-childhood experts consider the single most frightening film for a 4-yea- old, “Bambi,” premiered at Radio City Music Hall in August 1942. Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley died in August; the Beatles' last concert ended in August 1966; and the first baseball night game was played in Chicago's Wrigley Field in August 1938.

Why is this? Historians offer no definitive explanations for the August paradox but there are many theories. Pick the one you like best:

1. Bad things happen when it is too darn hot. Tempers flare and emotions sizzle. (So, don’t annoy your mother-in-law until September).

2. It is the ideal time for invasion-launching and coup-hatching to occur. There is no snow or bitter cold to obstruct it.

3. Peoples' guards are generally down since their psychiatrists are on vacation.

4. The falling stock market takes away too much time from swimming.

5. It is an unfortunate month astrologically. As the sun moves into Leo each year, people generally become more assertive and BAAAD!

But I have indisputable proof that the little men and women who live below the earth's crust, and who control our thoughts, simply like evil things to occur in August. Why, for instance, couldn’t you find your other sock, or the toothpaste top, this morning?

And, as if you didn’t have anything else to worry about this month, let me warn you that a newly discovered comet is predicted to collide with earth on Aug. 14, 2126. Quick, go tell Alan Greenspan.

So, for a few suggestions to help you stay out of harm's way during the month of August, simply:

Batten down your hatches, keep your windows closed, load up on Tylenol, and stay under your bed with the cat, except to buy this newspaper, until the first of September (my wedding anniversary). Follow well these suggestions because, as the great philosopher, Phil, once philosophized, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Now, aren’t you glad that you read this column?

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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