27 September 2011

A Rant on Wednesday, and Why We Call It That

The Rambling Beginnings
Why is it spelt Wednesday, when it is clearly pronounced wendsday? I mean I get the English language is an eclectic beast, but is there even a sound for 'dn'? Or is the ‘d’ perhaps silent?
On second thoughts, I think it definitely is, and wouldn't even make sense as wendsday, as if you think about it; we actually call it ‘Wensday’. Thinking back to my childhood, I remember looking at this most formidable of the weekdays when learning to spell them, and constantly repeating to myself “wed-nes-day, wed-nes-day, wed-nes-day” to drill in the odd spelling of the thing.
But as with most irksome words in the English lexicon, its roots must be understood if you want to see the logical, in the seemingly illogical.
Wednesday is Woden’s day.
Woden, Galdalf; its all the same.
Woden, for those of you who are not as well versed in Germanic gods as I am pretending to be, is kind of a counterpart to the Norse Odin, which for some reason I will assume you are all aware of. He was also the standard psychopomp for the Germanic tribes, which I am mentioning solely because the word itself is so much fun to behold.
Woden was a pretty busy guy (if he had existed), and quite deserving of a day of the week being named in his honour. Under his supervision, the earth and sky were created from the dead body of a giant named Ymir, he created the first man and woman from an ash tree and an alder. Oh and he also established the laws of the universe. So a bit of a polymath as well.
Wednesday is Woden’s day because of the industrious Romans. After conquering parts of Germany, the Romans, as they are wont to do, sought to romanise the Germanic tribe’s gods, they assigned Woden to their representation of the god Mercury, due to their similar role as psychopomps (managed to get it in there again).
Having earlier assigned the seven major planets the names of seven of their main gods, the middle day of the week was given to Mercury, and thus passed on to his buddy, or somewhat alter-ego, Woden.
In fact if you look at the romance languages, they all still take their name for Wednesday from this roman convention: mercredi (French), mercoledì (Italian), miércoles (Spanish), miercuri(Romanian), dimecres (Catalan), Marcuri or Mercuri (Corsican), dies Mercurii(Latin).
What is funny however is that so many other languages have a more structured way to addressing the days of the week, and yet English clings to a Germanic style name, based on a bastardisation of others gods by the Romans. Hell even the Germans had discarded it a thousand years ago in favour of the more direct name Mittwoch, which literally means middle of the week.
Indeed many nations and languages have taken to this way of naming Wednesday, as either the middle of the week, or else as a demarcation of its place within the week, yet the English refer to it by the name of a god that they no longer, and most likely never, worshiped.
Most Slavic languages follow the modern German pattern and use derivations of "the middle" for Wednesday: сряда sryada (Bulgarian), srijeda (Croatian), středa (Czech), среда sreda (Macedonian), środa (Polish), среда sredá (Russian), среда/sreda or cриједа/srijeda (Serbian), streda (Slovak), sreda (Slovene), середа sereda (Ukrainian).
The Finns call it Keskiviikko ("middle of the week"), and its Icelandic counterpart Miðvikudagur means the same, whereas the Faroese name Mikudagur translates as "Mid-week day".
Depending on when you think the week ends or begins, you could also take the somewhat less artistically inclined path and just number the days of the week. I mean it’s not as extravagant as our English roots in foreign gods and celestial bodies, but then again it was our languages penchant for ‘out there’ origins that got me ranting in the first place.
The Portuguese take the easy route and simply use the word quarta-feira, meaning "fourth day”, similar to the Greek who call it Tetarti (Τετάρτη) (simply "fourth"). The Arabic culture was always one for numbers, so no surprise that they went down the mathematical path, and if you want to talk about the day after Tuesday in Arabic, its أربعاء which means "fourth". Similarly in Hebrew it is רביעי ("fourth") and in Persian چهارشنبه ("fourth day").
The Estonians weren’t content starting with Sunday, and thus their name is given as kolmapäev, meaning "third day”. In Mandarin Chinese, xīngqīsān means "day three", as they leave Sunday unnumbered.
So all very logical one would assume.
Though I guess we aren’t alone in remembering Woden’s importance in the world (he didn’t die on a cross, but in some tales he did impale himself on a tree....), as some dialects of Faroese use Ónsdagur to refer to his day, while the Danes pay him his dues on Onsdag, ("Ons-dag").
As usual, the ever vigilant, and chronically worried pious religious people of the world have even found issue with this inadvertent ‘worship’ of deities long relegated to the reject bin (your turn soon enough Christ), with groups such as the Quakers calling Wednesday ‘forth day’, in case their god gets a bit jealous of old Woden’s popularity.
(Note: a similar worry of inadvertent worship is the reason why traditionally Muslims bow when praying; in order to ensure that Allah doesn’t accidentally think they are worshipping the sun. Because I’m sure Allah worries about this.)

Wednesday is called 'budhwar’ in Hindi; I don’t know why.
I myself prefer hump day.
Plus it doubles as a name for disturbed little children.
[Wednesday that is, not hump day.....] 
Rant completed.

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