Monday, January 05, 2009


January is a pivotal month; for us, it is the swinging door between the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Many western cartoons will show a New Year’s baby taking a handoff from a decrepit elderly man, who represents the old year.

The month is named after the Roman god Janus, guardian of doors and gates and supervisor of beginnings. (Ianua in Latin means a door or an entrance.) Appropriately, he is depicted with a face in front and a face in back, thus seeing what was and what is to be simultaneously -- a pivotal position.

Janitor also comes from the Latin word meaning a door. Originally, a janitor was a porter or door-keeper. In our time, he or she is a building caretaker.

Milton used janua to mean a gate or introduction to some branch of learning.

SIDEBAR: Way more than you need to know about ancient doors

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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