There I was, teaching a word study lesson, when I wrote the month on the board: October.
"And if we know anything about root words," I began, "This should be the eighth month."
A row of blank faces from various grades met my assertion.
"OCTOber. Like 'octopus.'"
"How many legs does an octopus have?"
A fourth grader called out, "Eight!"
"Correct! And how many sides does an octagon have?"
Another pause. Had I gone too quickly to geometry? "Eight?" came the uncertain response from another one of my young pupils.
"Exactly!" I turned to the board and underlined the root with a dry erase marker for emphasis. "What do you suppose 'octo' means?"
More lingering silence.
"Eight legs. Octopus. Eight sides. Octagon." I wrote the words directly below the month.
"Eight?" That first voice came back, but this time just a little more assured.
"Right, so why is it that we're here in the tenth month and we're using 'eight' to start it?"
Now they started to get it. There was a mystery afoot. They seemed to understand that there was a conspiracy afoot.
"Extra credit for tomorrow: Why do we call it 'October' when it's the tenth month?"
Our time was up, and I sent them on their way back to their respective classes.
That was when I raced to my laptop and hit up Google. I had no idea that March used to be the first month on the original Roman calendar. Which suddenly made sense to me, since that would put October in its correctly labeled spot, and DECember would be month ten. And everything was right with the world once again.
The next day, when the kids returned to my room for our small group lesson, I asked if any of them had any luck searching out the answer.
I wrote the twelve months of the year on the board. Then I numbered them, starting with January as number one. "Watch this," I said, switching the color of my marker, this time starting with March in the number one spot. When I finished, I whirled around, pointing to the board. "See, back in the olden days, they used to start the year in March. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and look where eight lands!"
My enthusiasm was met with a few raised eyebrows. A murmur of assent. No one came out of their seat. No one hollered "Eureka!" This bite-sized bit of revelation was for me. And someday, when they are in their sixties, these kids will puzzle over something just as innocuous. I too my new piece of knowledge and put it on the shelf for the next time I need a conversational gambit.
And I returned to the mystery of the "gh" in "sigh."