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A Week of Words: Half Way There

By Becky Todd

Our quest for knowledge, along this ‘A Week of Words’ journey, continues as we delve further into the not-so-weak terminology of the weekly calendar.

Tuesday and Wednesday

“Tuesday is a good thing. It means that you’ve survived Monday.”

Mars: The Roman God of War

The word ‘Tuesday’ originates from the Old English, ‘Tiwesedaeg’, the day of Twiz or Tŷr, as the God was also known. He was the German god of Law, Justice, the Sky, Heroic Glory, and War. However, following the invasion of the Norse, he was overtaken in popularity by his counterpart, Odin, which is why poor Tŷr is not very well-known today. However, he does have a whole day named after him, so don’t give him too much sympathy. At a first glance, it may seem like the romantic languages again have taken a different approach, with their words like ‘Mardi’ (French) and ‘Martedì’ (Italian). Yet, it is not as simple as that. Following the theme of Gods again, these words come from ‘dies Martis’ (Latin), the day of Mars, the Roman God of War. The Germanic peoples were in the practice of associating Roman Gods with their own deities, and our friend Tŷr is the equivalent of Mars, so it is all interlinked. Tuesday can therefore be thought of as Mars-day, so perhaps we should make it a day of compulsory chocolate-eating.

The German God, Wodan, healing a horse

Wednesday shares a very similar origin. Derived from the Old English, ‘Wodnesday,’ it means Woden’s day. However, the etymology is slightly more complex henceforth. Although he seems to be an Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Odin (the Norse God of War and Battle), the ancient Germanic people related him more with Mercury. Why? Well, in ancient Greek Mythology, it was Hermes, the messenger God, who carried the souls of the dead to the underworld. Woden shared this role, and so the Germanic people thought that it was an appropriate approximation. Once again, the romantic languages give us an appreciation of this with ‘Mercredi’ (French) and ‘Miércoles’ (Spanish). Interestingly, however, for the first time in this ‘A Week of Words’ series, the German is not an equal translation. Although other Norse languages share the name, for example, ‘Onsday’ (Swedish), German uses a completely different word: ‘Mittwoch’. This literally means ‘mid-week’. The theory behind this is that the Goths in the East decided to try to introduce a system that was not affiliated with religion or astronomy. Although this was quite forward thinking for the time, I much prefer our system of naming days after completely random Gods. It makes so much more sense.

Photography: 1) Andrea Puggioni (CC BY 2.0); 2) Emil Doepler.

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