March 02, 2017

#05-012: "The Third Monday in February"

very familiar oil painting of George Washington in late adulthood
George Washington by Gilbert Stuart

Note: I guess something good happened on "the Third Monday in February"--but we can't decide what to call the holiday that celebrates it! It's a puzzle...

Get Ready: Do you know anyone that shares your birthday--same day, same year? (I know two.) How about in different years? (I know lots!)

Read another version of this lesson--with jokes!--in Lesson #01-075.

Have you ever heard of the strange phenomenon called the "Birthday Paradox"? In probability theory, they say that if you have 23 people together, there's a 50% chance that two of them will share a birthday. With 70 people, the chance is 99.9%! (Check it out when you're in a group of over 20 people.)

So I guess it's not so surprising when one famous person shares a birthday with another. But how about the same day and the same year?

That's the case with Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, and the famous biologist Charles Darwin: both were born on February 12, 1809.

When I was a boy, Lincoln's birthday was celebrated on February 12, and that of George Washington, the first president, on February 22. We had a day off of school for each. Throw in the Valentine's Day celebrations, and February was a pretty great month to be a kid!

Alas for today's youth, in most states the two presidential birthdays have been rolled into one, commonly called "Presidents' Day."

But typical of the country's federal system, things are done differently in different states. One commentator has pointed out that in state designations of the holiday:

  • the name varies state-by state;
  • which president (or presidents) is (or are) honored varies state-by-state; and
  • the use of the apostrophe varies state-by-state.

So, four states honor George Washington alone; five states honor both Washington and Lincoln; two honor Washington and one person other than Lincoln; and the apostrophe moves around thus: "Presidents' Day" (10 states), "President's Day" (9 states), and "Presidents Day" (4 states). Furthermore, some states combine terms, so one state has "Washington's Birthday/President's Day," and another "Lincoln/Washington/Presidents' Day."

My home state of California (which is one of only four that still recognizes Lincoln's Birthday as a separate holiday--score one for the school kids of the Golden State!) hedges its bet by simply calling the third Monday in February, "The third Monday in February"!


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. case
  2. commentator
  3. federal system
  4. hedges its bets
  5. paradox
  6. probability theory
  7. rolled into one
  8. score one
  9. throw in
  10. thus

  1. a person who makes observations on a topic
  2. include
  3. "like this"
  4. the study that determines how likely something is to happen
  5. a statement that seems to contradict itself
  6. count something as a success
  7. situation
  8. a union of separate states, rather than a single centralized government
  9. combined
  10. protects itself against a wrong choice

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for March 2, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. g; 2. a; 3. h; 4. j; 5. e; 6. d; 7. i; 8. f; 9. b; 10. c