By Hilary Picken | January 8, 2019 | Featured Word Geek
Wednesday. Known to many modern UK workers as ‘the ‘hump’, as in ‘the middle of the week and good to get over’, its actual beginnings have little to do with the workplace.
Like many days of the week, it began with a pagan deity. Anglo-Saxon paganism was a polytheistic system, worshiping many gods.
Each deity provided a particular protection or benefit and were regularly worshiped to keep them happy and supportive.
Part of this worship was to incorporate their names into everyday life, and in many cases, into names of days of the week. In Wednesday’s case, this honour was afforded to Woden, the chief Anglo-Saxon god.
Woden was a complicated character: on one hand he was responsible for divination, wisdom and poetry, while on the other, he was leader of the Wild Hunt, accountable for war and death. His name comes from ‘Wod’, meaning “violently insane” + ‘-en’ meaning “headship”.
The resulting ‘Wodensdaeg’ existed in Old English for many centuries until Frisian settlers from what today are northern Germany and Denmark, brought with them what is referred to by historians as the Middle English version, ‘Wednesdei’. By the late 13th century a blend of the two was in common use as the Modern English word ‘Wednesday’.
The Romance languages adopted a similar word but with different roots. During the Roman occupation, Woden was interpreted as the equivalent of the Roman god Mercury. This gave them ‘Mercredi’ in French, ‘Mercoledì’ in Italian and ‘Miércoles’ in Spanish.
In Germany, Mittwoch (literally: “mid-week”), replaced the former German name Wodenstag (“Woden’s day”) in the 10th century.
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