Answer Man

Answer Man: Heavens may hold key to March proverb

Q. Now that we’re in March, we’re again hearing people say that if the month comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb and vice versa. What’s the story behind this?

— TaterTot

A. Some look to the stars. Some look to the Bible. In the end, though, it may have been just a writer showing off a creative way with words (and I ain’t lion).

The most popular explanation seems to involve the nighttime sky in late winter and early spring, according to Jack Horkheimer, whose astronomical observations were carried on PBS stations around the country before he died in 2010.

If you go outside and look up at about 8 p.m. on March 1, you’ll see the constellation Aries the Ram (lamb) above the western horizon. Then, if you turn around and look at about the same height above the eastern horizon, you should be able to spot the constellation Leo the Lion with its bright star, Regulus. By the end of the month, Leo will be directly overhead while Aries will be disappearing in the west.

The thinking is that someone connected the rising of Leo, the fierce king of the beasts, to the fact that March often starts with equally ferocious weather — such as the snow and ice we received Sunday. Then, by the time March ends, nicer weather is settling in (hopefully) so it exits like the lamb (Aries) that is also going out of the nighttime sky. Hence, in like a lion and out like a lamb.

But as any St. Louis resident knows, March weather is not always the same one-way street. Sometimes we’re riding bikes in shorts and T-shirts on March 1 and hunting for the gloves and mufflers on March 31. So, some explain the old saying by digging into the Bible.

In John 1:29, John the Baptist introduces Jesus to the world by exclaiming, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” But in Isaiah 11:4 we’re told that when Jesus comes again, “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips, he will slay the wicked.” In other words, in like a lamb and out (or in again) like a lion.

So, between the skies and the Bible, we have March’s usually unpredictable weather covered both ways. The question is: Did these influence some deep thinker to create the popular proverb? Or are we trying too hard to link a reason to what may have been simply a colorful, but off-the-cuff, observation? Maybe, as Freud supposedly said (but probably didn’t), sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Whatever you believe, the saying may have first popped up in the 1624 play “A Wife for a Month,” when English author John Fletcher wrote, “I would chuse March, for I would come in like a lion ... but you’d go out like a lamb when you went to hanging.” About 50 years later, English naturalist John Ray observed, “(Annoying) March comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb.”

Although it is often a poor rule of thumb, the adage apparently quickly caught on and spread to the New World where by 1788 even future President John Adams noted in his diary, “(March) comes in like a lion, and according to the farmer’s proverb, it must go out like a lamb.”

Personally, I’d rather set my sights on May flowers portending a hammock in June.

Q. A couple of my friends say they’re double-jointed. Does this mean they have extra joints that let them do the things they do?

— P.W., of Fairview Heights

A. The term double-jointed is more like double talk to health experts.

Using it implies that a person has twice the number of joints of a normal human being. You may also assume that these double joints allow for double the amount of motion. Neither is true. All people are born with the same number of joints.

However, an estimated 5 percent of adults have what is known as joint hypermobility, which allows them to bend fingers, knees, limbs, etc., in ways most people couldn’t without suffering painful injury. For reasons unknown, it is especially common among young females, according to Dr. Jonathan Cluett, a Massachusetts orthopedic surgeon.

In otherwise healthy people, it’s simply called hypermobility syndrome, the ability, for example, to pull back your thumb back to your wrist or bend your knee backwards. It can be caused, for example, by the shape of the end of your bones and may even be enhanced by techniques such as yoga.

In some, however, it may be a symptom of a more serious health disorder such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder, or Marfan syndrome. Some studies also have found that hypermobile people more likely to suffer from panic attacks, depression and mitral valve prolapse.

And, if they show off their contortionist abilities too often, they may wind up with osteoarthritis.

Today’s trivia

If you asked your restaurant waiter for a Mae West, what would you be hungry for?

Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: Artists often call them “found objects” now, but a century ago, French-born Marcel Duchamp called them “readymades” — an ordinary, everyday object that with a bit of modification became what he labeled a work of art. In the early 20th century, Duchamp exhibited dozens of these, from a snow shovel that he called “Prelude to a Broken Arm” to perhaps his most famous, “Fountain,” which, in reality, was nothing more than a porcelain urinal put in a museum setting.

But the piece that perhaps raised the most eyebrows was when he took a cheap postcard reproduction of da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and added a mustache and goatee to the woman’s face. In 1919, it was displayed in Paris’ Musee National d’Art Moderne. He called it “L.H.O.O.Q.,” which, if you pronounce the letters in French, supposedly sounds like “elle a chaud au cul,” roughly meaning “she has a hot (butt)” — or as Duchamp translated it, “There is fire down below.” Duchamp, who became a U.S. citizen in 1955, largely gave up art for chess in the early 1920s and died unexpectedly of heart failure in 1968 at age 81.