I looked up what this birthday might be in Latin. I’m reliably informed it would be ‘quinquaginta tria.’ Say that fast three times!
We call a 100th anniversary (or birthday) a centennial. We call a 50th anniversary a semicentennial. (Well, I suppose some do.) Mostly, we tend to refer to birthdays by the traditional gift associated with them. Since you traditionally give gold for the 50th anniversary, we call the big 5-0 the golden anniversary. I can’t find a proper way to refer to a 53rd, however, which is the birthday I celebrate on this particular day. I found that 53, in Latin, is Quinquaginta Tria. That sounds far too complicated to me.
I managed to miss taking Latin classes in school. My foreign language of choice was Spanish, which I figured would have more use to me in the future. While I’ve never been to a Spanish-speaking country, I’ve encountered just enough Spanish that I suspect that was the right decision. It’s hard to find websites or emails written in Latin these days, after all.
So Latin enthusiasts will have to forgive me if I don’t immediately know how to convert quinquaginta tria into its -ennial form. I suppose I could just call it my “quinquaginta-triennial,” but I’m not sure Latin would be that simple.
That brings me to a problem with these odd birthdays.
When we’re kids, we celebrate each birthday. I will admit that I remember feeling like I had accomplished something when I hit my fifth birthday. I don’t know why, but that big 5 on the birthday cake looked more impressive to me than the 4 had the year before. It even looked more impressive than the big 6 would the following year.
Of course the 10 was even bigger since I hit two digits.
But after someone reaches 21, a funny thing happens to birthdays: we mostly downplay them. We begin focusing on multiples of five at that point. So our 25th birthday becomes something of a bigger deal. Some dread the 30th, 40th and 50th birthdays. If you’re facing any of those, I offer this piece of advice as you get closer to the dreaded day with a hat tip to Orson Welles.
Even when we look at traditional gifts for anniversaries, there comes a point — usually at 25 years — where they skip those “minor” years in between those multiples of five. I took a chance and looked up the traditional gift for a 53rd anniversary.
Well, here you go: “No traditional gift.”
Granted, once many of us reach 50, we might not want to be reminded of each birthday, even though we ought to be grateful to have reached another one.
What’s so great about ’53’?
If I look up the good ol’ quinquaginta tria, I find that 53 is the natural number between 52 and 54. I know that’s earth-shattering news. It’s also the 16th prime number. (Don’t feel bad: I had to look that up, too.) A prime number is a number that is not a product of any two other natural numbers. That’s a fancy way of saying you can’t multiply any two whole numbers to reach 53. Even basic multiplication tables aren’t interested in 53.
Fifty-three is also the smallest prime number that does not divide the order of any sporadic group. Whatever that means.
Science buffs might know that 53 is the atomic number of iodine. As Don Rickles might have said:
You won’t find an Interstate 53 on the map. One was considered for the Chicago area, but those plans fell apart.
There’s a state Highway 53 here in South Carolina that runs through Sumter County. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been on that particular highway. That would be a case of going a long way just to make a point.
In entertainment, 53 was the number of Herbie the Volkswagon from 1968’s The Love Bug. The 53rd Precinct was the center of hilarity in TV’s Car 54, Where Are You?
In sports, it’s the maximum number of players on a National Football Player roster. (That seems like a curious number to choose as a limit to anything.)
I suppose I could focus on the date.
Nov. 23 was an interesting date in the performing arts. On that date in 534 B.C., Thespis of Icaria became the first recorded actor to portray a character on stage.
On this date in 1963, the first episode of “Doctor Who,” which is now the world’s longest-running science fiction series, aired on BBC. I’ve never watched an episode.
On this date in 1992, IBM introduced the Simon, the first smartphone. I won’t take the credit or blame for the smartphone.
Meanwhile, I share birthdays with actor Boris Karloff and comedian Harpo Marx:
(That clip always chokes me up a little. I think it’s the sincere look of satisfaction on his face, particularly at the end. You can see how much he loves what he does.)
I also share a birthday with comedy writer Bruce Vilanch, musician Bruce Hornsby, TV personality Chris Hardwick and singer Miley Cyrus. You may have heard of a few of them.
One other notable with whom I share a birthday: President Franklin Pierce, born on this date in 1804. Despite being known for amiability and good looks — and introducing us to perforated postage stamps — history has judged him as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. So there’s that.
The best thing I found about 53
For those of you who may one day face your own quinquaginta tria, I found one glimmer of good news.
If you translate 53 into hexadecimal, and I don’t know why anyone would think to do so, a curious thing happens: it becomes 35.
So I think I’ll refer to today, for the rest of the day, as my 35th birthday. (I may or may not mention the hexadecimal thing.)
I don’t know what I’ll do for quinquaginta quattuor.