And so we get another one! Page 28 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition was no fun! Lots of bi- and bio- words. Do you know them? If you don’t, you can figure them out. So today’s word is “bissextile.”
In This Bissextile Year, Let Me Rant About “Bipartisan”
I have to say something about a very common word on Page 28: bipartisan. In a two party system such as ours, it really should be seen as a pejorative. If you look back at the great bipartisan deals we’ve had, they’ve been terrible. They’ve been the result of the Democratic Party becoming conservative. So we got welfare “reform,” which had the result of making the poor poorer. We got trade deals that did the same thing. We got costly and bloody wars.
In general, bipartisanship is not something that comes from the voters; it’s something that comes from the party elites. I’m no fan of the Tea Party idiots, but I’m with them on the idea that such compromises are really just a form of selling out. What’s funny is that it has been the liberal leadership that has sold out its base. And maybe that’s why. The conservative leaders know that their base is so crazy that it complains about compromise when they do no compromising.
Compromise Is Good
Liberals like the idea of compromise. So do I! But that’s not what bipartisanship has been during my lifetime. In 2011, Obama was willing to trade small tax increases on the wealthy for decreases in Social Security. Tax increases on the rich is a liberal policy — but only when the economy is doing well. It wasn’t. Raising taxes on the rich was part of an austerity program. You know: a conservative program. So he was trading a conservative policy for a conservative policy. Bipartisanship! Let’s have a parade!
And what would the long-term results be? Well, the Social Security cuts would stick. But the rich would find a way around their tax increase. If you haven’t noticed, pretty much whenever a Republican gets into the White House, their taxes get cut. So it would have been a temporary inconvenience. Meanwhile, poor old people would suffer — in perpetuity.
But enough of that. On to bissextile:
1. having or denoting February 29, the extra day of a leap year.
Date: late Middle English.
Origin: from Latin bissextus, which literally means “twice sixth.” Apparently the Romans had two February 24ths on each leap year. So why the “sixth”? Well, because February 24th was the sixth day before the beginning of March. If this seems a bit odd to you, well you obviously wouldn’t have made a good Roman.
Example: There are other terms for the added day: bissextile day (which takes some explaining), intercalary day. —Guy Ottewell