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Anniversaries with a long tail

The Monitor's language columnist looks at the quintessential quindecennial and other celebrations.

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Anu Garg celebrated the 15th anniversary of his popular “A Word a Day” website a few weeks ago by featuring five 15-letter words. He also introduced another nifty new (to me, at least) word that, while not quite 15 letters long, does have a relationship to that number: quindecennial. It’s a 50-cent word to refer to a 15th anniversary or to something that occurs every 15 years.

If the federal government moved to conduct its regular head count of the population less often, we might shift from a decennial census to a quindecennial one, for instance.

The Wordsmith celebration started the day after a certain roundish anniversary of the birth of one of my grandfathers. Sesquicentennial I knew – but that would overshoot by a quarter-century. Hmm, is there a fancy way of saying 125th anniversary? There is, and it wasn’t hard to find: quasquicentennial.

Actually, Wikipedia has a whole list of these oddball “Latin-derived numerical names” on a page headed “Anniversary.” They include the relatively familiar centennial, bicentennial (American history is just long enough that we’re seeing more of these nowadays, such as Abraham Lincoln’s this year), tricentennial (fairly common along the East Coast), and even quadricentennial (Champlain and Hudson this year; Jamestown a couple of years ago). The sesqui element means “one and a half times,” hence sesquicentennial, 150 years.

For other odd half-centuries, there’s semiquincentennial – half of 500, or 250 years – or semiseptcentennial, for 350. For its 250th birthday in 1996, Princeton University used the cantankerous-looking bicenquinquagenary.

Admittedly, nobody is going to use any of these fancy terms all the time, but then it’s not every day that you need a word to refer to a 350th birthday.

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