Proleptic Gregorian (was Re: Functions add/diff/cmp for xtime)

Rich Wales richw at
Wed Oct 7 14:55:02 UTC 1998

Antoine Leca wrote:

	. . . TIME_TAI *or* TIME_UTC (as defined by Markus,
	with the added point that the calendar should be the
	proleptic Gregorian).

Markus Kuhn replied:

	Question: What precisely does "proleptic" mean and
	where is it defined? . . .  (I suspect it means
	"extended before the time it was defined", but would
	like to get a confirmation and reference.)

Short answer:  My understanding agrees with Markus's suspicion.

Longer answer:

I looked up the word in two respected American English dictionaries:
the Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1985), and the American
Heritage Dictionary (New College Edition, 1976).

Webster's New Collegiate defines "prolepsis" (a noun) as "the represen-
tation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently
existing or accomplished", or "the application of an adjective to a noun
in anticipation of the result of the action of the verb".  "Proleptic"
is listed as the corresponding adjective.

The American Heritage defines "prolepsis" as "the anticipation and
answering of an objection or argument before one's opponent has put it
forward", or "the use of a descriptive word in anticipation of the act
or circumstances that would make it applicable".  It lists both "pro-
leptic" and "proleptical" as adjective forms.

Both dictionaries say the word is derived from Greek "prolambanein" (to
take beforehand) < "pro-" (before) + "lambanein" (to take).  Webster's
New Collegiate says the first recorded use of the word in English was
in 1578.

So, the "proleptic Gregorian" calendar would be the result of extending
the Gregorian calendar back into the past, before it came into use in a
given location, or even before it was invented.

My sense (as an educated native speaker of American English) is that
"proleptic" and "prolepsis" are not commonly known or used by the aver-
age English-speaking person.  English is, of course, replete with such
words, known primarily by authors, orators, and Scrabble players.

Rich Wales         richw at

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