Days of the Week

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Like with the months, the names of the days in English hark back to the Romans. They are named after the seven ‘planets’ of classical astronomy: the sun, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Later, the Germanic peoples adjusted the names of the days so that they reflected their own mythology rather than that of the Romans. As English is part of the West Germanic family of languages, the English words for the days (mostly) derive from these Germanic names.

  • Monday – The word ‘Monday’ comes from the Old English ‘Monandaeg’, which translates to ‘day of the moon’, and comes from Máni, the North Germanic Moon-god. ‘Monandaeg’ is a translation of the Latin ‘dies Lunae’, which itself is the root of the words for ‘Monday’ in the Romance languages, such as the French ‘lundi’ or the Italian ‘lunedi’.
  • Tuesday – ‘Tuesday’ comes from ‘Tiwesdaeg’ which translates to ‘Tiw’s day’. Tiw is English for Tiwaz who was the ancient Germanic god of war and law. In Latin, the name for Tuesday, ‘dies Martis’, translates to ‘day of Mars’, and Mars, as we know from last week’s post, was the Roman god of war.
  • Wednesday – If you, like us, have ever been frustrated by the fact that ‘Wednesday’ has a silent ‘d’ in it, you’re about to find out the reason why it’s there! The word comes from the Old English ‘Wodendaeg’ which translates to ‘Woden’s day’. Woden (also known as Odin) was the Allfather, or chief, of the Germanic and Norse gods. In Latin, the day was known as ‘dies Mercurii’ or ‘day of Mercury’, after Mercury the messenger-god. Though the link between Woden and Mercury isn’t as clear as with some of the other days and their deities, both gods were associated with death – Woden was, in addition to being chief of the gods, the god of war and death, while one of Mercury’s roles was to guide souls to the afterlife.
  • Thursday – ‘Thursday’ comes from the Old English ‘ÞÅ«nresdæg’ which means ‘day of Thunre’. ‘Thunre’ means thunder, and thunder, in turn, was personified by the Germanic god Thor, leaving us with ‘Thor’s day’. The modern Dutch ‘donderdag’ and the German ‘Donnerstag’ literally translate to ‘thunder day’. Thor was associated with Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods and Roman counterpart to the Greek Zeus, god of thunder and lightning, for whom the day is named in Latin: ‘dies Jovis’ or ‘day of Jupiter’.
  • Friday – ‘Friday’ comes from ‘frigedæg’ and means ‘Frigga’s day’, after the goddess Fríge, the Germanic equivalent of the Roman goddess of married love Venus. In Latin the day is called ‘dies Veneris’ or ‘day of Venus’.
  • Saturday – ‘Saturday’ comes from the Old English ‘Sæternesdæg’ which translates to ‘day of Saturn’. It is the only English day name that directly echoes its Roman origin (‘dies Saturni’), possibly because there is no obvious equivalent to the Roman God Saturn in Germanic mythology – Saturn is a figure with various associations, including wealth, agriculture, and time. Many languages also allude to Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest) in their names for Saturday, such as the German ‘Samstag’ or the French ‘samedi’ (from ‘sambaton’ which was a colloquial way of saying ‘sabboton’, which means Shabbat).
  • Sunday – Unlike many other languages, in which the words for ‘Sunday’ translate to something along the lines of ‘the Lord’s day’ (such as the French ‘dimanche’, or the Italian ‘domenica’), in English and other Germanic languages the word for ‘Sunday’ comes from the West Germanic goddess Sunna (also known as Sól), a personification of the sun. The word ‘Sunday’ comes from the Old English ‘Sunnandaeg’ which translates to ‘day of the sun’, and is derived from the Latin ‘dies Solis’.

Avani Shah

19 Nov 2013
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