Friday, January 6, 2012

Fun Friday Facts #23: Days of the Week Edition

A few weeks ago now, somebody asked me to write a Friday Facts about the days of the week. So here it is. Don't expect a lot of pictures. It's hard to graphically represent a day.

Although this is a pretty accurate representation of "Friday." ~ P.L. Armstrong|

Hold onto your hats, kids, cause this gets a little confusing.

1) Our seven day calendar, like our alphabet, much of our architecture and our cultural love of conquest, dates back to the Roman Empire. The Romans originally used an eight-day week. It was actually a nine-day week, but the ninth day was the “market day,” when people would bring their goods into the city, and everyone would shop for the week ahead. For some reason, this ninth “market day” wasn't counted as part of the week.

Sometime during the first three centuries AD, the Romans adopted the seven-day week we use now. At the time, it was believed that the planets ruled over specific hours of the day, and over the days themselves (this idea remains key to modern astrology). Saturn was in charge of the first hour of the day, Jupiter was in charge of the second hour, and so on, thusly:

  • Sun
  • Venus
  • Mercury
  • Moon

Obviously, there are more hours in the day than there are celestial bodies, so when you reached the end of the list, you started over again from the beginning. They split the seven-day week up into its component hours, and named each day after the planet/star/cold orbiting rock that dominated the first hour of each 24 hour period. The first hour of the first day of the week was the Sun's hour, the first hour of the second day of the week was the Moon's hour, and so on. The Latin names of the days of the week were:

  • dies Solis
  • dies Lunae
  • dies Martis
  • dies Mercurii
  • dies Jovis
  • dies Veneris (which reminds me of veneral disease – very fitting, since this is still the day you're most likely to catch one, ha ha ha)
  • dies Saturni

I have left out the special accent marks, because I can't be bothered to find and implement a Latin keyboard. Deal with it.

2) When early Christians adopted the seven-day calendar in the 4th century AD, they wanted to avoid the association with pagan gods, as you would if you were an early Christian. So they named the days One through Seven, because early Christians were hella creative.

They had other things to worry about.

3) So, if all this stuff about the Roman gods is true, then how come we have days like “Wednesday” and “Friday”?

Northern Europeans, the Germanic peoples, adopted the seven-day week too, but refused the Roman names. Instead, they used their own names, and just sort of switched out the creepy Roman gods for more respectable Germanic ones. This happened between 200 AD and 500 AD, before Christianity arrived in the north. That's why we still call the first day of the week “Sunday,” even though most European languages now call that day some version of “the Lord's day,” in honor of, you know, the Lord.

The Old English days of the week were:

  • Sunnandaeg
  • Monandaeg
  • Tiwesdaeg, after Tiw or Tyr, the one-handed god of single combat

That's one baby-faced Norse god.

  • Wodensdaeg, after Woden, the god of being awesome

Look how awesome.

  • Punresdaeg, after the god Punor, or Thor. That's not spelled right, either, cause it starts with a weird letter presumably unique to Old English. It looks like a P, so I'm going with P. If I can't be bothered to find and implement a Latin keyboard, you know I'm not going to look for an Old English one. That sh*t probably isn't even in the standard options.

Anyway, Thor. God of thunder and big hammers.
  • Frigedaeg, after Frige or Freyja, hot wife of Woden and goddess of love.

The most domestic of the gods.

  • And, finally, Saeturnesdaeg, a direct translation of the Roman name. Scandinavian day-names are all pretty much derivative of these old Germanic names, except for this one. Scandinavians call Saturday some variation of “lordag,” which means “washing-day.” I take it the folks to the south thought that pre-designating a washing-day for the rest of time was even lamer than emulating the Romans.

In Southern Europe, and especially where Latinate languages are spoken, the day-names remain fairly similar to the old Latin ones. And I should know, cause I speak French.