The days of the week and the Viking gods

My first article in Spanish talked about the coming of the New Year. For the first contribution in English, I'd like to talk about the days of the week. Of all the first words we learn in English, they're arguably the most difficult to spell and pronounce. Have you ever wondered why?

Okay, let's start with the easier days, which have their roots in Ancient Greek and Roman culture:

Sunday (Sun's day) from the Old English sunnandæg meaning 'Day of the Sun'.

Monday (Moon's day) from the Old Enlgish mon(an)dæg meaning 'Day of the Moon'. Like in Spanish "lunes" (luna)

Saturday (Saturn's day) from the Old English sæter(nes)dæg. Curiously, this is the only Roman god to have survived in the English days of the week.

Now, for the difficult ones, we have to fast forward in time to the arrival of the Germanic peoples in Britain and then to the late 8th Century, when the Vikings first invaded. During this period the Roman deities, which had formed the basis of the days of the week until that time, were replaced with Germanic gods. Some of you who have watched the TV series Vikings may have heard some of them mentioned. The pronunciation and spelling of these days in modern English is tricky as they're a mix of Old Norse (the language of the Vikings) and Old English words.

Tuesday = Tiu's day

Tiu was the Old English god of war and the sky (Tyr in Norse).

Wednesday = Woden's day

'Woden' is closely related to the Viking god Odin, the chief of all gods. He's referred to a lot in the TV series.

Thursday = Thor's day

From the Old Norse thorsdagr (Thor's day) and Old English thunresdæg (thunder's day). Probably the most well-known nowadays of all the Viking gods, Thor was the god of thunder.

Friday = Freya's day

Also mentioned on Vikings, Freya was the Norse goddess of love, beauty and fertility.

So there you have it folks. The difficulty of remembering how to spell and pronounce the days of the week in English lies in the fact that these gods just don't have much place in today's anglophone culture (well, apart from maybe Thor). If you think of the days as gods, you'll remember to spell them with a capital letter. If you want to become a master of the English days of the week though, watch Vikings, get learning those gods and don't confuse Tuesday (Tiu's day) with Thursday (Thor's day) .... unless you want to start a thundery war in the sky ;)

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