March 1, 2023

Photo by Prabir Kashyap on Unsplash

March, or Martius, was the Romans’ first month of the year for a long time. Mars received this honor because he was the father of Rome’s founders, Romulus and Remus. (Their mother was Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin raped by Mars, the god of war.) March became the third month of the year in about 153 BCE.

Our month March, with its warlike connotations, is related to martial, as in martial law, when the military patrol the streets. The Romans named the fourth planet from the sun Mars presumably because of its blood-red color.

I have always thought that march, as in a parade and as in what the ants do one by one and two by two*, also derived from Mars. I thought that parades and marches (also march music) have a military origin. You know, soldiers marching along in close order, on their way to war, or, we would hope, on their way back to their barracks.

Thanks to you and our Wednesday Word, I looked up “to march” and learned that marcher is an old French word of uncertain parentage meaning “to walk.” No military connection. Yet more misinformation I have passed on to students over the years.

*This morning, I watched some very militaristic marching ants with my grandchildren in this YouTube video many, many times. If you’ve forgotten that song, it’s actually pretty mesmerizing. Let me know what you think.

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