The secret troves of Etymology

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Wednesday – the day of Odin

For most of us, Wednesday is just yet another day in the middle of the working week. We seldom ask ourselves what are the meaning and the origins of words that we are used to. Especially, the names of the days, months, countries, planets, constellations, etc. They are laid so deep in our memories and consciousness that we take them for granted. However, each name has its semantic roots and historical background. And believe me, most of the time they are truly amazing and unpredictable. Today, we will follow a bit from the story of one really common name – Wednesday.

The Nordic god Odin (Woden) with his two ravens beside him; Image credit:


Wednesday is the day of the week between Tuesday and Thursday. According to ISO 8601 - the international standard, it is the third day of the week. However, in some Muslim countries and in countries, which have Friday as their holiday, it is the fourth day of the week. There are other countries, which use the Sunday-first convention and in the Jewish Hebrew calendar, Wednesday is defined as the fourth day of the week. So apparently, there are some variations even on that level of the word.

In English, Wednesday is derived from the Old English name Wōdnesdæg and Middle English Wednesdei, both of which literally means "The day of Woden". It is the English equivalent of the Norse god Odin, echoing the religion practiced by the Anglo-Saxons. The name is a calque of the Latin Dies Mercurii "The day of Mercury", from where comes the word for Wednesday in most of the Roman languages, such as the French - mercredi, Italian - mercoledì, or Spanish – miércoles. During Roman times, Mercury was regarded as analogical to the Nordic god. And similarly, Odin is revered as the god of wisdom, knowledge, poetry, sorcery, royalty, healing, death, but also of the gallows, war, battle, victory, frenzy, and the runic alphabet, and as the husband of the goddess Frigg. In Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish the name comes from the same origins.

However, in German, the name of the day is Mittwoch (literally: "mid-week"), which in the 10th century replaced the former name Wodenstag ( "Woden's day"). This meaning is adopted by Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, and Icelandic as well as by most of the Slavic languages.

In most of the Indo-European languages, the name is connected with the meaning "four" or "four days from Saturday". Interestingly, that is the case also with Portuguese and Greek languages.

The amazing stories of word deriving could be perplexing and complicated but it's surely a worthwhile journey. It could elucidate new and unexpected meanings in what had been taken as clear and unquestionable. So, don't take any word for granted and enjoy the trip to the unknown!

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Thursday, 29 July 2021

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