Thursday, January 16, 2014

Lost in Translation: January

Because I finished with all the days of the week, now I’m going to start months and I wanted to do at least one during the same month it was in. Does that sentence make sense? I think my mind’s all drifty.

January showed up in English in the late thirteenth century as Ieneuer (I went over the whole I-J thing in my post on the letter J, but long story short: J used to sound like I or Y and only changed because an Italian started using it for the juh sound). Ieneurer comes from the Old North French Genever and Old French Jenvier sometime around the early twelfth century.

January’s birth was, unsurprisingly, from classical Latin, where it was Ianuarius mensis, the month of Janus. Janus is the Roman god of gates and doors (door is literally what ianua means) as well as beginnings and endings. That might seem appropriate for the new year, but since the original Roman calendar started in March and only had ten months, not including January, I think it’s just a coincidence. The month January was added by the Roman king Numa Pompilius, who ruled sometime around 700 BCE. It’s interesting to note that he also established a temple dedicated to Janus, so he seems to have had some affinity for the god.

Believe it or not, English had another name for the first month: geola se aefterra. That aefterra looks like after for a reason. The literal translation of the phrase is later (or after) Yule and it seems to have been interchangeable with January. As always when it comes to different versions of words, one is preferred and the other lost to history.



  1. After Yule makes sense.
    Wonder why two months were added? Ten was such an even, metric number.

  2. Awesome! How did you know I was doing research for a book that takes place in the early 13th century? Thankee much for this gem!

  3. The whole calendar thing is fascinating. Did you know the Romans' leap day was inserted between February 24th & 25th?

  4. How interesting! I wonder why they added those two extra months. 10 seems such a nice round number...

  5. So cool. I find names of months and days fascinating.

  6. I named one of my characters Janus, he's a shady character part good, part bad. Though I'm probably not being very original with that, come to think of it. I like the month of January here in France because we get to eat a lot of galettes des rois. I'm easy to please. (:

  7. The Janus connection I knew about, of course. One of the few Roman gods they weren't just ripping off of Greek deities.


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