Wednesday is "The fourth day of the week; the next day after Tuesday" (Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary). This is probably the first thing one thinks about the word "Wednesday". Nevertheless it bears a lot of historic meaning in its origin. The word itself evolved in many languages to become the word we use today to describe this day of the week. Will it stay this way forever or will the word continue to alter?

    Prehistoric Germanic people had a practice of naming days of the week after heavenly bodies or gods. They acquired this practice from the Mediterraneans, notably the Romans, who themselves took it from the Greeks. Wednesday is named for the Germanic god Woden, who was "the highest god of the Teutonic peoples, but identified with the Roman god Mercury" (Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary). "The Old English form was Wodendaeg "Woden’s day", and by 1200 it was "Wednesdai" (Take Our Word For It).

    These changes never really affected the people of those times. Words changed when their meaning had to be altered or was not given anymore, for example when a tribe moved from a place near the sea to a place in the woods, they did not need words for fishing anymore but they needed words for, e.g. hunting now. Thus, their whole lifestyle had to adapt and the new generations to come forgot about the old words. Therefore words like the days of the week metamorphosed only through alterations of the more distinct words of a language.

    Looking at the etymology of these words today makes it obvious that their real meaning has been abandoned by most of our modern cultures. The belief in gods has disappeared and using the word "Wednesday" merely describes the fourth day of the week. Whereas in German this day is called "Mittwoch" which means the day in the middle of the week. Thus a more rational meaning would help to make languages globally understandable instead of confusing.

    This change will probably be seen for many languages in the future. When languages evolve, new words will be created and new circumstances will have to be described until it might become necessary or even useful to change the names of the week. Not only science or technology advances but also language; therefore it will be our task to control its progress and give it sense whenever a change is inevitable.


Written by Lars Dahlhaus   Feb. 1999

Works Cited

Take Our Word For It. “The webs only weekly Etymology magazine.” (2 Feb. 1999).

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. “From Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913).” (2 Feb. 1999)