DAYS OF THE WEEK:
In English, all the names for the days of the week come from the Anglo-Saxon tradition (of Germanic inspiration), while the names of the months are derived from Latin (dating back to the Roman conquest).
THE BEGINNING OF A DAY:
In some cultures, the beginning of a new day was considered to be at sunset. The sacred Jewish year and the Christian eve of feast-days were equally important. Old expressions related to “a week” (“se’en-night”- archaic, no longer used) and “two weeks” (“fort’night”) in the Anglo-Saxon culture (ancient Britons) speak of the “night”. The ancient Greek, the Mohammedans, the Chinese also start the day at sunset.
In other cultures (Syrians, Persians, Modern Greek) the day begins at sunrise.
Ancient Egyptians considered that each day began at noon (because they were worshippers of the Sun God Ra). Modern astronomers kept this tradition.
The day began at midnight for the Romans. In modern times, the English, French, Dutch, Germans, Spaniards, Portuguese and Americans also consider midnight as the beginning of the day.
SUNDAY – was considered the first day of the week. In Old English it was called Sunnerdaeg, and it was dedicated to the Sun god.
MONDAY – the second day of the week (“day of the Moon” or Monandaeg in Anglo-Saxon)
Monday was observed as a non-working day by various guilds (shoemakers etc.). St. Monday or St. Lundi is the facetious (mocking) name given to it by others
TUESDAY – comes from the name of Tiu (or Tiw, or Tyr) who, in Scandinavian mythology, was the son of Odin and brother of Thor. In Roman mythology he can be identified with Mars, the god of war (whereby the name of this day in French is “mardi”). Etymologists consider that Tiu can be equated with the Greek major god Zeus (in Latin = Deus; in Sanskrit = devas)
WEDNESDAY – the fourth day of the week was originally “Woden’s Day” (or “Odin’s Day”), called by the French “mercredi” because they equal it to the day of god Mercury.
The Persians regard this as a “red-letter day” (= a lucky day, usually a festival took place – Christian priests adopted this writing for the calendar) because the Moon was created in the fourth day as written in the book of Genesis
THURSDAY – was the day of the god Thor (called by the French “jeudi” after Jove = Jupiter, who was also a god of the thunder, just like Thor). In the old times, Thursday was also called “Thunderday”.
FRIDAY – was the sixth day of the week. In ancient Rome it was called dies Veneris (the day dedicated to Venus) and this was the etymology of “vendredi” in French. The nearest equivalent to Venus among the Northern goddesses was Frigg (or Freyja). The form in Old English was “frige dag”. Freyja was the wife of Odin, goddess of love, marriage and of the dead and she always wore a necklace called Brisingamen. When Odin left her she cried with golden tears.
The Norsemen considered Friday as the luckiest day in the week and that is why it was the best day for weddings and other celebrations. With Christian religion, things changed because Friday was the day when Christ was crucified.
For Mohammedans, Friday is the equivalent of Sabbath (because they say Adam was created on a Friday and, also on a Friday, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden apple; they also died on a Friday).
Buddhists and Brahmins consider it unlucky.
In England, there is a saying according to which “A Friday moon brings foul weather”, but it is not unlucky to be born on a Friday, because “Friday’s child is loving and giving”.
It is considered unlucky for ships to put to sea on a Friday (however, this is what Columbus did in 1492 … and he discovered America!)
In mediaeval times, condemned criminals were executed on Fridays so it was also called “Hanging day”.
Friday 13th – is particularly unlucky. Originally, it is said to come from an old Scandinavian tradition – at a banquet in Walhalla, Loki intruded, he was the 13th guest and then Balder (son of Odin, god of Light) was killed.
Paraskevi-dekatria-phobia = the irrational fear of Friday the 13th (from Greek)
SATURDAY – was the seventh day of the week. In Old Anglo-Saxon it was called Saeterdaeg, adapted from the Latin Saturni dies (the day dedicated to the worship of Saturn). There was also a festival (Saturnalia) that lasted for 7 days, starting with the 19th of December – a time of freedom from any restraint, no business took place, law courts were suspended, schools were closed, no criminals were punished. The character of the “fool” /“buffoon” seems to have inspired the Romans’ ill-treatment (“Passions”) of Jesus on Crucifixion day.
SPECIFIC EXPRESSIONS – IDIOMS:
A week of Sundays – meaning a long time, an indefinite period
Week-work – this goes back to the feudalist period, when a lord’s land was worked by tenants (usually 3 days a week compulsory work) (serfdom).
He has had his day – meaning that his youth days are over
Today a man, tomorrow a mouse – meaning that one day you can have it all, then the next day you can lose all you have
To lose the day – to lose a battle, to be defeated (from the mediaeval times, but today it is still used metaphorically)
To win / gain the day – it is its opposite, meaning that you have been successful
Daylight Saving – the idea of changing the official time during summer seems to have been put forward by Benjamin Franklin after the American States won their independence. But the idea was finally adopted only in 1916 in Germany, closely followed by England because of wartime restrictions. In Britain it became permanent by an Act of 1925 when it received the name of Summer Time. It began the 3rd Saturday in April (unless that was the Easter Day) and ended on the day following the first Saturday in October. Since 1961 it has been extended by 6 weeks (beginning in March and ending in October).
To let daylight into someone – to pierce a person with a sword or bullet
Dayspring (poetical) – the dawn
De die in diem – from day to day continuously, until the business is completed
The-swing-it-till-Monday-basket – the nickname for things that can be postponed until Monday
When three Thursdays come together – never
Not in a Month of Sundays – never
A Sunday Saint – someone who strictly observes all religious ordinances only on Sundays
MONTHS OF THE YEAR:
JANUARY – it was the month dedicated by Romans to the god Janus (the god who kept the gate of Heaven – the guardian of gates and doors) who presided the entrance into the year and, having two faces, could look both forward and backward in time. The doors of temples dedicated to Janus were open during war and closed in times of peace.
The Dutch called this month “Lauwmaand” (=frosty-month).
The Saxons called it Wulf-monath, because wolves were very dangerous at that time of the year due to the fact that food was generally very scarce. After the introduction of Christianity, this month was given the name of Se aeftera geola (“The after-yule”, meaning after Christmas) or Forma monath (=the first month).
After the French Revolutions, the French called this first month Nivôse (= the snow-month) and it started on 21/22/23 December, lasting until 20/21/22 January.
[YULE (in Old English “gēol”) came from the Icelandish “jǒl” which was the name for a heathen festival at the winter solstice.]
FEBRUARY – was the month of purification for the ancient Romans (Februo = I purify by sacrifice = catharsis). Hence, the 2nd of Feb. is the day of Purification of the Blessed Virgin.
The Anglo-Saxons called this month “Sprout-kale” from the sprouting of kale (=cabbage). The French revolutionaries called it “Pluviôse” (rainy month).
In Scotland, tradition has it that February “borrowed” 3 days from January (12-13-14). If these are stormy, the rest of the year will have good weather; if they are fine, the rest will be marked by bad weather.
MARCH – the name comes from the Roman god of war Mars. The Old Dutch called it “Lentmaand” (and this is where the term LENT comes from, since March is always in Lent).
The Saxons called it Hreth-monath / Hlyd-monath (=the rough month, because there were always cold winds in this month). The French Republicans called it Ventôse (=windy) and it lasted between 20 February – 20 March.
Anglo-Saxon tradition has it that the last 3 days in March were “borrowed days” (from the month of April). There is even a proverb that says “March borrows 3 days of April, and they are ill!” (=cold, rainy, windy).
APRIL – was the “opening month” (from Latin “aprire”), because trees unfold, all nature opens with new life. The French Revolutionaries called it “Germinal” (time of budding) – 21 March – 19 April.
April fool (Poisson d’avril in French; Gowk in Scots, meaning cuckoo). 25 March used to be the New Year’s Day, festivities usually lasted for 8 days so April 1st was the culminating point in the celebrations, as well as their ending point. The term possibly comes from Roman tradition (Cerealia, a celebration held at the beginning of April. Proserpina was taken by god Pluto into the underworld and her mother Ceres, goddess of cereals, heard her screams and tried to find her, but her search was “a fool’s errand” – in vain).
MAY – The Anglo-Saxons called this month Thrimilce (because cows could be milked three times a day). The modern name seems to come from Latin (Maia being the goddess of growth and increase – from multus-maior-maximus).
In Dutch it was called Bloumaand (the month of blossoms).
The French Revolutionaries called it Floréal (the time of flowers) – 20 April – 20 May.
Mayday – the first of May – a time for heathen celebrations – electing a May Queen, dancing around a Maypole, lighting bonfires (nature worship).
Very tall, ugly women are sometimes called “maypoles”.
JUNE – is the sixth month of the year. It took its name from the Roman “Junius” the term describing young people. It could also come from Juno, queen of heaven, sister and wife of Jupiter.
The Old Dutch called it Zomer-maand (=summer-month). The Anglo-Saxons called it Sere-monath (=dry-month) and Lida aerra (=joy-time).
The French Revolutionaries called it Prairial (prairie = plain, meadow) – 20 May – 18 June.
Marriages in June are said to be very lucky (old Roman superstition related to the June calends, as Juno was the protector of women from birth to death).
JULY – is the 7th month. It was named “Iulius” by Marc Anthony in honour of Julius Caesar. It was formerly called Quintilis (the 5th). Until the 18th century it was pronounced [dzúli].
The Old Dutch called it Hooy-maand (=hay-month). The Old Saxons called it Maedd-Monath (the cattle were brought into the meadows to feed) or Lida aeftevr (the second mild or genial month).
The French Revolutionaries called it Messidor (harvest month) – June 19 – July 18.
AUGUST – Initially called Sextilis (the 6th month from March when the year began) it was renamed by Octavius Augustus in honour of himself (he lived between 63 BC – 14 AD and renamed this month in 8 AD) when he became the first Roman emperor. This was “his lucky month”.
Its old Dutch name was Oostmaand (= harvest month). The old Saxons called it Weodmonath (“weed-month” but weed referred to vegetation in general). The French called it Thermidor (=hot month) – 19 July – 17 August.
SEPTEMBER – was the 7th month of the Roman year that started in March. The Old Dutch called it Herst-maand (meaning the “autumn month) while the old Saxons called it Gerst-monath (barley month) or Haefest-monath. When Christianity became official religion on the main island, they changed the name into Halig-monath (=Holy month, because it included the Nativity of the Virgin Mary on the 8th, the Holy Cross day on the 14th and St. Michael’s day on the 29th).
The French republicans called it Fructidor (the fruit-month) – 18 August – 16 September.
OCTOBER – was the 8th month of the ancient Roman calendar. The Old Dutch called it Wynmaand and in Old English the equivalent was Winmonath (wine-month, or the time of the vintage). It also bore the name of Winter-fylleth (winter full moon). The French revolutionaries called it Vendémiaire (also “time of vintage) – 22 September – 21 October.
NOVEMBER – was the 9th month in the Roman calendar. The Old Dutch name was Slaght-maand (=slaughter-month) because cattle were slain and salted down for winter time. The Old Saxon name was Wind-monath (wind-month) and it was the time when fishermen brought their boats ashore until the next spring. The Saxons also called it Blot-monath (=blood month), an equivalent of the Ditch name.
The French republicans called it Brumaire (fog-month) – 23 October – 21 November.
DECEMBER – was the 10th month in the initial Roman calendar. It was the time of the Saturnalia.
The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1994 edition, Wordsworth Reference books