The twelfth of never

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Sep 22 19:45:54 UTC 2006

At 3:17 PM -0400 9/22/06, Charles Doyle wrote:
>So, no evidence comes to light that "the twelfth of never" was
>proverbial prior to its use in the 1957 song.  (Incidentally, there
>have occurred, more recently, scattered instances of the
>alliterating "ninth of never" and other dates of that month--as well
>as such expressions as "half-past hell freezes over").
>However, the phrase does belong to a recognized "folk" pattern
>discussed at length by the great paremiologist Archer Taylor:
>"Locutions for 'Never,'" Romance Philology 2 (1949): 103-34.  Such
>expressions as "at four o'clock next summer," "at next Never's tide
>(or Nevermass)," "auf Maienostern" (Easter never falls in May).

Isn't the earliest instance of this practice the Latin expression "ad
kalendas Graecas", i.e. 'at the Greek kalends'?  This was a "12th of
Never" of their own, since the Greeks didn't reckon with kalends
(calends), which were the first days of each month on the Roman

(The "Greek calends" were thus a bit like the "Welsh rabbit" or
"Irish apricot" of threads of yore, an example of what I was trying
to dub "ironym"--except that instead of referring to something else
it refers to nothing)


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