Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lost in Translation: Saturday

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these. Too long. Of course, now I only have one day left. Whatever will I etymologize next? [I have no idea if I’m using that word right; don’t care, either]

In English, most of the days of the week are named after gods. Tuesday is Tiu/Tyr, the Norse god of war, Wednesday is Woden/Odin, Thursday is Thor, Friday is probably either Frigg or Freya, Norse goddesses of love. Saturday is also named after a god, but for some reason from a completely different mythology—Roman. And of course, we’re the only one who still does that.

Saturday in Other Languages
Latvian: sestdiena
Lithuania: šeštadienis
Icelandic: Laugardagur
Danish: lørdag
Norwegian: lørdag
Finnish: lauantai
Swedish: lördag
Estonian: laupäev
Dutch: zaterdag
German: samstag
French: samedi
Italian: Sabato
Portuguese: sábado
Croatian: subota
Georgian: shabat’i
Russian: subbota
Hungarian: szombat
Serbian: subota
Armenian: shabat’
Slovak: Sobota
Greek: Savvato
Hungarian: e shtunë

As you can see, a lot of countries have a similar naming convention. Most non-Scandinavian European countries have a variation of Sabbath, even countries like Germany and France where it’s quite different (it’s basically a mispronunciation of it). The Scandinavian countries went a completely different route. Their Saturday is from an Old Norse word meaning “bath day”, probably used because they didn’t want to use their equivalent god of death for a day of the week. It spread through the other countries and stuck even as the language changed. Finally, there’s the oddballs, Latvia and Lithuania, both of which have words meaning sixth day. It’s just how they do their days of the week there.

Our Saturday was Sæterdæg or Sæternesdæg in Old English, both meaning the day of the planet Saturn. It was taken from the classical Latin Saturni dies (Saturn day), which itself was taken from the Greek kronou hemera, Cronus day (makes sense, Cronus is the Greek equivalent of the Roman Saturn).

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English


  1. So cool! I love that you do stuff like this. I always feel smarter after visiting your blog :)

    1. I totally love learning about word origins. They're so crazy.

  2. Super fascinating. I love seeing where our language comes from, and what a crazy mix of awesome sauce, eh?

    1. A crazy mix of awesomesauce? Yeah, that sounds about right.

  3. I thought many languages used a numbering thing for their days of the week. At least, those that don't use gods/planets.

  4. I did know Saturday in French, though my French has gotten rough down through the years due to lack of use, and the Dutch as well, since that's where my family comes from.


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