Wednesday
n. The fourth day of the week in the USA, and the third day of the week in Europe

We all know vaguely that our days of the week (and our months of the year, too) generally have their origins in antiquity, but what’s especially interesting in the case of English days of the week is just how structured their evolution is—and what’s more, just how incestuous old languages were.

Wednesday comes most immediately from the Middle English Wednesdai, from the Old English wōdnesdæġ, which is a combination of the generic dæġ (“day”) and the possessive wōdnes, or “Woden’s”—that is to say, Wednesday is Wōden’s day. Wōden is an Old English form of the proto-Germanic *Wod-enaz, with connotations of madness or inspiration. It’s the same old god as the Norse Odin (Old Norse Óðinn), and also comparable to the Old High German Wotan. Wotan/Wōden/Odin was the leader of the Norse pantheon (the Æsir), and the patron god of war, death, wisdom, and poetry.

What about the other days? Why not consult this handy chart?

Etymologies of the days of the week
Modern ME OE Latin Greek Explanation Gods
Gmc. Roman Gk.
Sunday sunnenday sunnandæġ dies solis hemera heliou day of the sun
Monday monday mōnandæġ dies lunae selenes hemera day of the moon
Tuesday tewesday tiwesdæġ dies Martis hemera Areos Tiu’s day Tiu/Tyr Mars Ares
Wednesday wednesdai wōdnesdæġ dies Mercurii hemera Hermu Wōden’s day Wōden Mercury Hermes
Thursday thursday þurresdæġ dies Jovis hemera Dios Thor’s day Thor Jupiter Zeus
Friday fridai frigedæġ dies Veneris hemera Aphrodites Freya’s day Freya Venus Aphrodite
Saturday saterday sæterdæġ dies Saturni hemera Khronu Saturn’s day Saturn Cronus

With the exception of the sun and the moon (which were, funnily enough, linked to gods, so I’m not sure why they aren’t explicitly represented), all the days of the week were named after gods, and simply changed depending on the pantheon of that group. Our modern English versions are Germanic in origin (since English is, as well), which is why we don’t generally see Greek and Roman gods in them (with the exception of Saturn, for whom I suppose the Germanic peoples didn’t have a suitable counterpart, and so it crept into Old English as a calque of the Latin).

§2795 · October 22, 2008 · Tags: , , ·

2 Comments to “Wednesday’s Word: Wednesday”

  1. Conor says:

    Quality.

    Saturday’s etymology always has been, and still is, quite confusing to me. As for Sunday, there’s always been a conflation between the etymologies for "sun/sol" and "seven/sabbath." Probably entirely fictitious, but it’s led to fun reading.

  2. Ben says:

    Except that Sunday isn’t the Sabbath… at least not until some Christians started using it interchangeably with Lord’s Day. Early Christians didn’t usually call it Sunday unless they were evangelizing to pagans..

    In fact, though the original Greek was hemera heliou , modern Greek for Sunday is Kyriake, which also means “Lord’s Day.”

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