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Why It’s So Hard to Remember Which Day of the Week It Is

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It seems most people tend to remember whether it’s the start or end of the workweek, but sometimes struggle to identify Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Why the discrepancy?

A new study in PLOS ONE indicates that people are slowest to identify these days of the week compared to Mondays or Fridays, and suggests that this is because people don’t have very many mental representations of midweek days such as Tuesdays. 

In three different studies, psychologists from the U.K. examined how people thought about different days of the week. In one online survey, they asked 1115 people to name the day of the week; more than 37 percent of respondents got the answer wrong during a normal week, and more than 52 percent got it wrong during a bank holiday week, when many businesses were closed on Monday. The discrepancies between the perceived and actual day of the week were more likely to occur on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. In another test, the researchers measured 65 university undergraduates’ response times to the question “Can you tell me what day of the week it is today?” (The participants were paid for their time.) Response times were fastest when the participants came into the lab on Mondays and Fridays, and slowest on Wednesdays. 

In a third experiment, 60 undergraduates (in exchange for class credit) were asked to complete a free association task that would illuminate some of the mental associations with different days of the week. The researchers found that the students thought of much fewer words to associate with midweek days. They came up with more general associations (like “fun” or “family”) for Fridays, Mondays, and the weekend days. Mondays were associated with words like “boring,” “hectic,” and “tired,” while Fridays, unsurprisingly, were connected to words that connected back to the start of the weekend, like “freedom,” “release,” and “party.” Perhaps we can’t remember whether it’s Tuesday or Wednesday, the researchers hypothesize, because those days don’t have regular associations for us. Friday almost always involves some sort of feeling of being temporarily released, whether from work or school obligations, and Mondays usually mean a return to those obligations. But Wednesdays? They don’t stand out.  

While the study on word associations is intriguing, it is too small to say anything definite about population-wide Wednesday amnesia. Yet if you look at popular culture, the findings seem to pan out. There are culturally engrained feelings that surround Fridays (TGIF!) and Mondays (case of the Mondays), but there are not as many strong associations with those filler weekdays between the two. In fact, when the researchers searched the Internet for weekday names, there were fewer mentions of midweek days.

We may hate Mondays, but at least we remember them. 

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Why Was February Chosen for Black History Month?
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Every February since 1976, the United States has celebrated the achievements of African-Americans during Black History Month. The month-long celebration puts those accomplishments and milestones in focus via the media and in classrooms.

But why February? Was that part of the calendar chosen for any specific purpose?

It was. Black History Month began as “Negro History Week,” a label applied by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Woodson was bothered by the fact that many textbooks and other historical reviews minimized or ignored the contributions of black figures. Along with his Association for the Study of Negro Life and History—later the Association for the Study of African American Life and History—Woodson earmarked the second week in February to raise awareness of these stories.

Woodson chose that week specifically because it covered the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (February 14) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12). The ensuing publicity led many mayors and college campuses to recognize the week; through the years, the groundswell of support allowed the occasion to stretch throughout the entire month.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford made Black History Month official, saying that he was urging everyone to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

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Philibert Louis Debucourt, Detail from "Calendrier républicain" // Public Domain
211 Years Ago Today, the French Abandoned Their Decimal Calendar
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Philibert Louis Debucourt, Detail from "Calendrier républicain" // Public Domain

In 1793, the French switched to French Revolutionary Time, creating a decimal system of time. A day had 10 hours, 100 minutes per hour, and 100 seconds per minute. The system was elegant, doing away with the complex math required for time calculations under a 24 hour/60 minute/60 second system. But it also brought huge headaches.

French Revolutionary Time came alongside the French Republican Calendar, a further attempt to rationalize time. Months were divided into three 10-day weeks, and there were 12 months. The leftover days needed to add up to 365 or 366 for the year were tacked onto the end of the year as holidays. This was a bit inelegant (days and years being hard to divide cleanly by 10), but at least it was less confusing than trying to sort out what time "noon" was (it was 5 o'clock).

French Revolutionary Time only lasted 17 months. By April 7, 1795 (in the Gregorian calendar), the time system became optional. Decimal clocks and decimal/standard hybrid clocks continued to be used for years, but for practicality, France returned to the same system of time as its neighbors.

The French Republican Calendar lasted far longer. It began in late 1793 and ran all the way through the end of 1805 (again in the Gregorian reckoning). On December 31, 1805, the French government chucked the system—in the year XIV, by Republican reckoning. This was due, of course, to the reign of Napoléon Bonaparte as Emperor. (Incidentally, his coronation occurred on 11 Frimaire, Year XIII of the French Republican Calendar—also known as 2 December, 1804. It took him more than a year to roll back the revolutionary calendar.) In any case, January 1, 1806 rolled around using the Gregorian calendar and the rest is history.

Of course, all this calendar-nerd stuff leads to the fact that you could still choose to use the French Republican Calendar. Indeed, Wikipedia will tell you the current day and year using the system, although you'll want to read up on the exquisite problems related to leap years (also helpfully detailed on Wikipedia).

For a bit more on decimal time (including several modern variants), check out our article Decimal Time: How the French Made a 10-Hour Day.

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