Issue 116, page 1

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Days of the week... Wednesday

Due to demand from our readers (well, reader - see Sez You...) we return to the days of the week, this time Wednesday.  From Old English Wodnes daeg, it is literally "the day of Wod[e]n."  This god was known to Teutons as Wotan and to theOdin with his ravens Hugin & Munin. Norse peoples as Odin (or Othin).  Both these names come from an Old Teutonic root *wodo- "to be mad, to be furious" which is related to Latin vates  and Irish faith, both meaning "prophet".  He stole the magic mead of poetry and once gave an eye in the pursuit of knowledge.  Some called him All-father but to the Vikings he was Grim, hence the English city of Grimsby ("the fortified place of Odin").  The Anglo-Saxon's version, Woden, also shows up in the English place names Wednesbury, Wednesfield and Wensley.

The Roman Empire of the 2nd Century brought the cult of Mithras to northern Europe.  With it came the week of seven days, each day being named after a god (or goddess) who was also a planet.  Soon, probably to simplify trade, the bordering tribes adopted this system.  Curiously, as the equivalent of Mercury, messenger of the gods, they chose Woden.  The reason may have been that they were both celebrated for their eloquence or that they both traveled faster than the wind - Woden on his eight-legged horse and Mercury on his winged sandals.  (Mercury is the fastest moving planet.)  Perhaps they found a deeper resonance in the "crazy", "poetically inspired" origins of Woden and the shamanic aspect of Mercury/Hermes as psychopomp ("guide of souls").  Maybe. [Look, it was 1,800 years ago and the sect was secret.]

In ecclesiastical Latin the week consisted of Sabbatum "the Sabbath", Dominicus "the Lord's day" and feria "weekdays".  Eventually, the term greater feria was used for those Christian festivals, such as "Ash Wednesday" or "Rogation Monday", which fell on a weekday.  Thus feria is the origin of the English fair and of the Portuguese feira "day".

That's about it for Wednesday, not very exciting but at least it's hump day, the middle of the week, the day when we start looking forward to the next weekend.

Words for Wednesday

From the Babylonians
Sanskrit budhalavara "day of the planet Mercury"
Tamil budan

Note that the Sanskrit for Mercury is budha "intellect", not buddha "awakened".

From contact with Mithraism
Ancient Greek Hermes Mercury
Latin dies mercurii "day of Mercury"
Welsh dydd-mercher "day of Mercury"
Teutonic Wodnesdag "day of Mercury"


Derived from Latin dies mercurii
Italian Mercoledi "day of Mercury"
Spanish Miercoles
French Mercredi


From Mithraism. indirectly, via Teutonic Wodnesdag
English Wednesday "day of Woden"
Dutch Woensdag
Swedish Onsdag
Old Icelandic Othinsdagr


From Christianity,
German Mitwoch "mid-week"
Modern Icelandic Mithvikudagur
Russian Srieda
Bulgarian Sriada
Polish Sroda
Czech Streda
Hungarian Szerda

Some Quakers also said (say?) Midweek for Wednesday.

From Judaism
Arabic yom el arba "fourth day"


From Christianity
Modern Greek  tetarti "fourth day"
Portuguese Quarta-feira

There's that feira word.

From Christianity (via numerically challenged scribes)
Chinese li-pai san "of the week, three"

And, lest we forget that early Christians fasted on Wednesday as well as on Friday...

From Christianity
Irish di-ciadain "day of the first fast"

How do we know all this stuff?  Why not visit our bookstore and find out?


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Last Updated 03/11/01 05:37 PM