THE DAYS OF THE WEEK
Modern Calendars are often made for the global market, to maximize sales across as many markets as possible. Thus, you can find the days of the week in several languages, as well as the months. Jeudi and Mercredi, Oktober and Avril. Typically the calendars have at least Spanish and French for the North American markets, and some even have Italian and German.
Which got me thinking about the names we have for these days. I've written in the past that Sunday is, in fact, the beginning of the week, not the end although modern calendars sometimes list it at the end. However in 1988 International ISO 8601 standards announced that Monday was the beginning of the week - something that most calendar makers haven't agreed to. But those days of the week, how did we come up with them, what do they mean? And why is Wednesday spelled so oddly?
SUNDAY (French: dimanche; Italian: domenica; Spanish: domingo German: Sonntag; Dutch: zondag)
Sunday in other languages is generally called a name somewhat like "domine" in Latin, which is the word for "lord." It is literally the "Lord's day" in most romantic languages, such as French and Spanish. Like adieu in French which translates to "with God" or "I commend you to God," Christianity hides in our languages everywhere because of its dominance over western culture for more than a thousand years.
In English, it is like the German name "Sontag" and it means not the Son of God as in Jesus Christ, but the sun as in the big glowing thing in the sky: Sunday is the day of the sun. Sunday comes from the Latin dies solis or day of the sun and is an ancient Roman designation for the day, for Apollo. Since Christians were heavily influenced by Roman culture and their influence spread through Europe through Rome and in missionaries, they were able to often coopt various deities for names of days, so as to make the transition to Christianity more comfortable for people.
MONDAY (French: lundi; Italian: lunedi; Spanish: lunes; German: Montag; Dutch: maandag)
This one has to do with the moon in every single one of the European languages. Moon day is easy enough to see in the spelling, and lune is the Latin for moon as well as in several other languages such as French. The moon goddess for the Romans was Diana (Artemis in Greek) and that was her day, carried on through all the expansions of the Romans.
TUESDAY (French: mardi; Italian: martedi; Spanish: martes; German: Dienstag; Dutch: dinsdag)
This one is a bit harder to trace because of the strangeness of Old English. The origin is Tiwsday, for the alternate spelling of Tyr, Norse god of war. How Tyr ended up tiw is a quirk of spelling and translation, but the god of war pattern holds for all the romantic lanages. However, for French, Italian, and Spanish, the god is Mars (Ares in Greek) rather than Tyr, from Rome again. Oddly enough, the Japanese day for Tuesday is "fire day" for the planet... Mars. The Germanic languages, however, departed from this war-god pattern and named the day "assembly day." Most people know Mardi from Mardi Gras, the "Tuesday of grace" that comes before Ash Wednesday. In the past it was a day of confession, the day you prepared yourself for the week of lent in which one thought of their sins and the sacrifice of Jesus for those sins on the cross. These days its just a party day when people go wild.
WEDNESDAY (French: mercredi; Italian: mercoledi; Spanish: miércoles; German: Mittwoch; Dutch: woensdag)
And here the spelling gets even stranger - and in typical British style, the pronunciation is slurred and garbled. As a child this word fascinated and confused me. Wed-nes-day becomes "wensday?" like wor-ches-tir-shire sauce becomes "woostershire." The origin for the English word is from Viking invaders, this time "Odin's" or "Woden's" day Wodensday makes more sense of the odd spelling. Germans, however, just call it mid-week, which is a pretty good name. The romance languages refer to the day as the day of Mercury, Roman messenger god (Hermes in Greek).
THURSDAY(French: jeudi; Italian: giovedi; Spanish: jueves; German: Donnerstag; Dutch: donderdag)
Thor's day. Thor was the most popular god of the Vikings, due to his tempestuous and warlike nature and the fun stories about the guy. Odin was in charge as Thor's dad, but Thor was the guy they all liked. That stuck with Thor's day becoming a fixture in English calendars. Germanic languages show this by calling it the day of thunder (Thor being the god of thunder - donner is thunder, one of the reindeer; blitzen is lightning). Romantic languages stick with the old Roman designation of Jove/Jupiter's day (Zeus in Greek).
FRIDAY (French: vendredi; Italian: venerdi; Spanish: viernes; German: Freitag; Dutch: vrijdag)
Friday is for Frigg, the wife of Odin and goddess of prophecy, wifehood, motherhood, and the home. The romance languages again are Roman, but not far off with Venus, the goddess of love (Aphrodite in Greek). Frigg supposedly spun the stars around on her spinning wheel and the planet Venus was named after Frigg by Norsemen.
SATURDAY (French: samedi; Italian: sabato; Spanish: sábádo; German: Samstag; Dutch: zaterdag; Swedish: Lördag; and in Danish and Norse: Lørdag)
If you've ever watched Univision, you probably have seen Sabado Gigante on Saturdays. In English the day is named after both the planet and the titan Saturn. It was under Saturn that there was supposedly a golden age of peace and comfort on earth - before humans were made, before he was killed by his children who he ate to stop that from happening. The Swedish, Danish, and old Norse name was more plain, though, just old "washing day." Presumably the day they got those furs and kilts washed.
So that's how we got all those days of the week and why they're spelled that way. Most of them are named after one deity or another, although it varies by language. These days, popularly, Monday is the most miserable day of the week, Wednesday is about a camel and hump day, and Friday night through Sunday is the week-end. I'm actually surprised there hasn't been a concerted effort to rename the days.
The French Revolution did just that, with their new "Republican Calendar." It was an attempt to strip all religion out of the French culture and make it more regulated. Like the decimal system which actually became standard in Europe, the Republican week was 10 days long: primidi (oneday), duodi (twoday), tridi (threeday), quartidi (fourday etc.), quintidi, sextidi, septidi, octidi, nonidi and décadi. That didn't really take off however and was abandoned by 1806 after only 18 years of attempted implementation. I feel sorry for the kids raised under that having to go to the old system again, but it was probably even harder for adults to get used to the complicated system (such as the 5 extra days at the end of the year on a different calendar and schedule).