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Etymology

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.

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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 :)

I’m always fascinated by the relationships between words in the same and different languages, and so while I’m currently trying my best to learn Cantonese, I’m intrigued by how a word I want to learn is related to another, and where it comes from in general. A big problem with this is that writing and spoken language are not that closely related as, say, Spanish; that means that most etymology that can be found online is about the signs, which are “the same” in Mandarin and Cantonese (apart from being simplified in China, with Hong Kong and Taiwan still using the traditional characters), not about the changes in pronunciation, which is most interesting to me, especially because I plan to learn Mandarin at some later time, when I’m proficient enough in Cantonese, and would like to connect the two languages using etymology.

So I didn’t find any resource for spoken Cantonese etymology; that may be because any resource is in Chinese, so I can’t search for it (yet). But I found another interesting tidbit: the name “Mandarin” for the Chinese language spoken around Beijing and made the official language of China is actually Indo-European. It entered English via Portuguese mandarim or Dutch mandorijn, who over some steps (Malay menteri, Hindi mantri) got it from Sanskrit mantrin “counsellor”. Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century used this word for the language as a loan translation: 官話 (guānhuà) means “language of the officials”. The root of the word *men- “to think” is related to mantra, mental and so on, and to Portuguese mandar “to lead”, which does not come from the same root, but probably from Latin manus “hand” (Indo-European root *man-) and dare “to give”.

Today I learned from an Indian couch surfer that Christian masses in some parts of India are held in Portuguese, because Christian missionaries came from Portugal in the late 15th century. That reminded me of the etymology of the German word “Glocke”, which directly comes from Irish. This is quite unusual, as few people today know about a seminal connection between Ireland and Germany during the Early Middle Ages. I have been intrigued for a while by the tendency of Celtic languages to always get the short straw when they meet another language, with almost no remnants of the original Celtic left in the languages that are today spoken in many areas that once were inhabited by Celts (there are other exceptions). So I’m happy to report of the success story of a Celtic word that has not only spread to the continent, but even managed to hop back across the English channel, positioning itself in everyday English :)

The Early Middle Ages were different times indeed, when places named Monkton produced ecclesiastical giants like Bede instead of lending their name to climate denialist buffoonsIrish missionaries, themselves the result of a conversion of Ireland to Christianity during the 5th century, were the first to bring Christianity to Francia (roughly the area of today’s France and Germany) starting in 590, with more tangible success in the 8th century. In Cologne alone four monasteries have their roots in Irish missionary activity. These missionaries were wearing hand bells according to Kluge, which also surmises that the Old Irish cloc may stem from a Late Latin *cuticulare (shake, strike, concuss). The Anglo-Saxons Wynfreth and Bede are the first to have mentioned church bells in the early 8th century. While Bede uses the Latin campana, Wynfreth uses clocca.

Francia split into two areas with a Roman and a Germanic language, respectively; the French word for bell (cloche, Old North French cloque) still shows the common origin.

The connection to English clock is obvious, but it seems it did not come directly from Irish, but was brought into the English language in the late 14th century from Middle Dutch (1150-1500), which got it from Old North French (800-1300). In today’s Dutch the word is klok, which can mean clock as well as bell.

(Thanks to Heinrich Tischner)

I found something interesting: when you’re really sad, »les larmes coulent« down your face. In German it is “die Tränen kullern das Gesicht herunter”. I didn’t think that’s a coincidence, and so looked up “kullern” in Kluge (best German etymological dictionary). There it says it comes from “Kugel”, so “kullern” is what marbles kids play with do. Certainly there is some resemblance to a small marble when a tear makes its way down the face, but interestingly, according to Wiktionary and Le Robert (French etymological dictionary), “couler” comes from Latin “colere” which has to do with filtering. So my hypothesis would be that the “kullern” of Tränen has been influenced by the French “couler”, and thus two words with totally different histories have met and merged. Maybe not like Roy Batty’s “tears in rain“, but fascinating nevertheless :)