Monthly Archives: February 2015

My Korean flatmate just told me that the Koreans have a planet naming system for their days of the week, which they took from the Japanese:

  1. 일요일 il-yoil / 日曜日 nichiyōbi (日 – sun)
  2. 월요일 wol-yoil / 月曜日 Getsuyōbi (月 – moon)
  3. 화요일 hwayoil / 火曜日 kayōbi (火 – fire)
  4. 수요일 suyoil / 水曜日 suiyōbi (水 – water)
  5. 목요일 mog-yoil / 木曜日 mokuyōbi (木 – wood)
  6. 금요일 geum-yoil / 金曜日 kin’yōbi (金 – gold)
  7. 토요일 toyoil / 土曜日 doyōbi (土 – soil)

Here are the relevant celestial bodies in Chinese:

  1. 日 (sun)
  2. 月 (moon)
  3. 火星 (Mars, fire-star)
  4. 水星 (Mercury, water-star)
  5. 木星 (Jupiter, wood-star)
  6. 金星 (Venus, gold-star)
  7. 土星 (Saturn, soil-star)

Here the Latin equivalents:

  1. dies Solis (sun)
  2. dies Lunae (moon)
  3. dies Martis (Mars, god of war)
  4. dies Mercurii (Mercury)
  5. dies Iovis (Jupiter)
  6. dies Veneris (Venus)
  7. dies Saturni (Saturn)

Hmm, might there be some connection? ;) According to this source, “the most commonly accepted theory is that the use of the seven planets originated in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, was adopted by the Greeks and Romans, and then found its way to China”. Check out the page for more details. In China, this can be traced back to at least the 300s, with later transmissions taking place in the 700s. However, the specific naming of week days is of more modern origin, the Japanese repurposed their Chinese tradition when harmonizing their calender with Europe in the 1870s. Chinese, on the other hand, just numbered the days, starting on Monday, keeping Sunday: 星期日 星期一 星期二 星期三 星期四 星期五 星期六 (sun – 1 2 3 4 5 6).

Here the German/English ones:

  1. Sonntag / Sunday (sun)
  2. Montag / Monday (moon)
  3. Dienstag / Tuesday (Týr, Germanic sky-god, also war. Replaced Mars, although name is etymologically related to Zeus=Jupiter)
  4. [Mittwoch] / Wednesday (Odin, replaced Mercury. Germans killed off Odin in favor of balance: “mid-week”)
  5. Donnerstag / Thursday (Thor, god of thunder, replaced Jupiter)
  6. Freitag / Friday (Freya, replaced Venus)
  7. Samstag / Saturday (Saturn; German ultimately from Hebrew שַׁבָּת šabbāṯ)

Today’s Romance languages (including Romanian) closely reflect their Latin heritage, only having replaced the sun with “Our Lord” (domingo etc.), and ditching Saturn for the sabbath. Only Portuguese, following the Catholic liturgical names, went with numbering days 2 (Monday = segunda-feira) to 5 (sexta-feira), and kept the Lord and the sabbath, thus eliminating a pre-Christian tradition. I wonder how that worked out in Macau, a Portuguese-Chinese colony :)

Curiously enough, the Vietnamese have a system closely mirroring the Portuguese numbering, probably due to Jesuit influence.

And, in Swedish Saturday is called “lördag”, “wash day” :)

Update: Here’s a very nice overview of day naming from dozens of languages.


Just stumbled over Hungarian “Péntek” for Friday, and was wondering whether it’s an accident that it’s really similar to Greek πέντε (5), it being the fifth day of the week. Turns out Hungarian weekdays are quite interesting (I have no specific knowledge of Hungarian whatsoever).

  1. Hétfő — hét “week” + fő “head”. hét does quite look like Greek ἑπτά (hepta) “seven”, and was indeed borrowed from some Indo-European language at some point. One Week = seven days. fő is Finno-Ugric, from Proto-Uralic *päŋe “head”. Head of the week. Cantonese (and probably quite some languages) use the head to signify the beginning of something, for example 年頭 nin4tau4 “beginning of the year”.
  2. Kedd — from Hungarian két “two”. Proto-Uralic *käktä “two”.
  3. Szerda — from Slavic, see for example Slovene sreda “Wednesday”. Related to Proto-IE *ḱḗr “heart”, here in the meaning of “middle” Compare German “Mittwoch” “middle of the week”. “Heart”, “cardio-” and others also come from the same root.
  4. Csütörtök — from Proto-Slavic *četvьrtъ “fourth”, from Proto-IE *kʷetwóres (source of quattro, four, Irish ceathair, Persian چهار čahâr, Greek τέσσερις tésseris, … You go, four!! :)
  5. Péntek — Proto-Slavic *pętъ “fifth”. Proto-IE *pénkʷe, source of fünf, five, Hindi पाँच pām̐c, Persian پنج panj, cinque, πέντε pénte, Albanian pesë, …
  6. Szombat — from Proto-Slavic sǫbota, via Medieval Latin sabbatum, which got it from Ancient Greek σάββατον, which got it from Hebrew שַׁבָּת šabbāṯ.
  7. Vasárnap — from nap “day” (unknown origin) and Vasár “market”. Hmm… Bazaar? Yup, vásár came to Hungarian via Middle Persian wāzār (modern Persian بازار bâzâr). Sunday = Market day.

I’m aware that day names are a special case and in no way representative of a language, but it’s fascinating to see how we have a wild mix of Indo-European in here, with some Hebrew thrown in for spice :)