Leap Year: Bringing birthdays out of limbo

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CBS News

"Leapin' Lizards!" (as Little Orphan Annie might say), it's Leap Year! And yesterday, February 29, was Leap Day, that extra day we add almost every fourth year to align our calendar with astronomical reality.

But however big a boon it is to most of us to be in synch with the universe, it leaves that small band of people born on February 29 in limbo three years out of four.

It's the paradox Gilbert & Sullivan highlighted in song in "The Pirates of Penzance," where a young "Leaper" (or "Leapist," if you prefer) is apprenticed to pirates until the age of 21, only to discover that, by their accounting, he's still only five.

How quaint the ways of Paradox!
At common sense she gaily mocks!
Though counting in the usual way,
Years twenty-one I've been alive,
Yet reckoning by my natal day,
I am a little boy of five!
– "When You Had Left Our Pirate Fold," from "The Pirates of Penzance"

So, when do people born on the 29th (and not apprenticed to pirates) celebrate their birthday in those three off-years? A day early on the 28th? Or a day late, on March 1st?

Fortunately, this year offered no such dilemma.

All of them, perhaps even a few of you, were free to celebrate yesterday with undisputed chronological precision.

We offer our Happy Belated Birthday wishes to you all!

Notable "Leap Year Babies" born on February 29: 

  • Composer Gioachino Rossini (Feb. 29, 1792)
  • Film director William Wellman (Feb. 29, 1896)
  • Band leader Jimmy Dorsey (Feb. 29, 1904)
  • Singer Dinah Shore (Feb. 29, 1916)
  • Ballet dancer James Mitchell (Feb. 29, 1920)
  • "Godfather" actor Alex Rocco (Feb. 29, 1936)
  • Serial killer Aileen Wuornos (Feb. 29, 1956)
  • Motivational speaker Tony Robbins (Feb. 29, 1960)
  • Rapper Ja Rule (Feb. 29, 1976)

      
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Story produced by Robert Marston.