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Author Topic: The Days of Our Lives  (Read 153 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: September 24, 2017, 11:11:08 AM »

Many years ago, I chanced upon an intriguing bit of information on the Web. It was that the word “Wednesday” had its origins in “Odin’s Day,” the day honoring the god Odin in Norse mythology. All the while I supposed that the English names of the days had simply been conjured from thin air, and that in the particular case of “Wednesday,” the Anglo-Saxons had perhaps playfully coined it from the word “wedding” in the sense of Wednesday being a propitious day for marital unions. As it turned out, I was way off the mark on both counts, in much the same way that Christopher Columbus, after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean at a time when the chronometer had not yet been invented to measure longitude, had mistaken the New World for India—then grievously mislabeled the native Americans as “Indians” for posterity.
Now, I told myself, if the Anglo-Saxons had named Wednesday after Odin, then for consistency’s sake they must have named the rest of the days after other Norse gods as well. I soon found out that this was largely the case. To my surprise, however, I also discovered that the English names for the days actually had their roots in astrology, mythology, and superstition—a thoroughly unscientific process that would have invited the strongest objections from rational-minded people.


To put this matter in better perspective, let us first examine the highly unlikely concept of the seven-day week. I say unlikely because the week doesn’t have a natural and logical basis as a division of time. It is unlike the day, which can be clearly experienced as the period between one sunrise and the next, and unlike the year, which can be conveniently marked as the complete cycle of the seasons.

In ancient times, however, Mesopotamian astrologers came up with the notion that the seven celestial bodies that regularly circled the Earth—the sun, the moon, and the planets Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn—influenced people’s lives and actually controlled the first hour of the day named after them. The astrologers thus formulated a seven-day week based on this idea, assigning each day to a particular celestial body and naming it after its corresponding god. This system became popular in Egypt during the time of the Roman Empire, and the Romans later informally adopted it to replace their traditional eight-day marketing week.

In 321 A.D, the reigning Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, formally incorporated the system into the Roman calendar, decreeing that the days be named in honor of Roman gods in the following order: Dis Slis, “Sun’s Day”; Dis Lnae, “Moon’s Day”; Dis Martis, “Mars’s Day”; Dis Mercuri, “Mercury’s Day”; Dis Jovis, “Jove’s Day” or “Jupiter’s Day”; Dis Veneris, “Venus’s Day”; and Dis Saturn, “Saturn’s Day.” Most of western Europe adopted this system, but the Anglo-Saxons decided to do a bit of reverse linguistic engineering. For the English calendar, they replaced the names of the Roman gods with those of their major Norse deities.
The Anglo-Saxons thus named their days as follows: Sunnandaeg, “Sun’s Day”; Monandaeg,  “Moon’s Day”; Tiwesdaeg, “Tiu’s Day” (after their war god Tiu); Wodnesdaeg, “Woden’s Day”; Thunresdaeg, “Thunor’s Day” (after their thunder god Thunor); and Frigedaeg, “Frigg’s Day” (after their love goddess Frigg). Perhaps because they couldn’t find a fitting Norse god for it, they retained the Roman god for Saturday and called it Saeternesdaeg, or “Saturn’s Day.”


From the seven Anglo-Saxon names for the days, then, it should be obvious by now how the modern-day English words for them came about: Sunday from “Sun’s Day,” Monday from “Moon’s Day,” Tuesday from “Tiu’s Day,” Wednesday from “Woden’s Day,” Thursday from “Thunor’s Day,” Friday from “Frigg’s Day,” and Saturday from “Saturn’s Day.”

In sum, then, through the names of the days in English and in the other major languages, we and the rest of the world continue to unknowingly and involuntarily subscribe to astrology and to pay homage to ancient gods, and it looks like this will be our common destiny for all time—for better or for worse.

This essay first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times and subsequently formed Chapter 146 of his book Give Your English the Winning Edge, Manila Times Publishing Corp., © 2009 by the author. All rights reserved.
« Last Edit: September 24, 2017, 11:16:53 AM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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