Words of today, gods of yesterday: Etymology now

Reporter: Chris Burrows

As the moon rose and darkness fell over the land, Tyr, the one-handed god of war, cried out, looking for anyone to challenge. Odin, all father and wisest of the gods rose, Gungnir in hand, to face his foe. Sword and spear clashed. Shields broke. The Earth trembled at the might of these two giants. But, as they reached the crest of their great battle, Thor, thunder god, son of Odin and protector of the Earth and gods, stepped between the two in an attempt to end the destruction. The ever-nurturing and loving Frigga, Odin’s wife and stepmother to Tyr and Thor, quickly joined her stepson’s side and lovingly took each man into her arms and calmly brought them home to rest. Saturn rose in the night’s sky to begin Earth’s rebirth from the destruction Tyr and Odin had caused, and heralded in a time of peace. In the east the sun ascended over the land, wiping away the blackness of night and any sign the mighty gods had ever clashed.
Every day, words are spoken out loud in a multitude of different languages, but seldom does anyone stop to think about their origins. For example, the paragraph above may look like a fun, short little story about a fight between two Norse gods and its aftereffects. However, understanding the etymology of certain words, you can see that it’s more than just a story about fighting gods. It also represents the days of the week: Monday — the moon, Tuesday — Tyr, Wednesday — Odin (Wodin), Thursday — Thor, Friday — Frigga, Saturday — Saturn and Sunday — the sun.
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, seven-day weeks began thousands of years ago with the first Middle East civilizations. The Mesopotamians named the days after the seven most prominent heavenly bodies in the sky, the sun, the moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn.
However, comparing words with their counterparts in another language their origins can become blurred. With the days Thursday/Thor or Friday/Frigga, it’s easy to see how they match up. But, compared to their French versions, Jeudi and Vendredi one can see they don’t. This is when it is essential to dig deeper into our language roots, especially with the planets and their Latin names: Thursday being Jupiter, Jovis (Latin), Jeudi (French) and Jueves (Spanish) or Friday being Venus, Veneris (Latin), Vendredi (French) and Viernes (Spanish).
When we take a moment to stop and understand how our language, our principal form of communication, has evolved over the millennia then what can unfold is a truly remarkable story about how we as a people, as a society, as a planet have grown and evolved. So take a moment and choose a word that you use every day and study up on its history. You may just learn something about yourself as well.