Episode 18: Keeping Time With The Romans

We explore the origin of modern English words related to time. A direct connection is made to the calendar reforms of Julius Caesar. The etymology of English words related to time illustrate the combined influences of the Germanic languages and Latin on modern English.

13 thoughts on “Episode 18: Keeping Time With The Romans

  1. What can i google to find an image of the Celtic calendar you you talk about? In Celtic language, but written with Roman alphabet.

  2. Regarding Saturday, oddly other Germanic languages have a quite different version. In Scandinavian it’s “bathing day” e.g. Lørdag in Norwegian. German has two different words for the day: Samstag in the south, and Sonnabend in the north, the latter meaning “the day before Sunday”.

  3. Fun fact, the seven-day week cycle we use may have been in continuous use since 500 BC. Although the Romans, like the Etruscans, used an eight-day week. It is thought the seven-day week derived from a quarter of a month and seems to have popped up independently in several cultures.

    I suggest that when you retire you make an episode 18b and elaborate on the origin of the calendar, dial, fascinating stuff though I can see how it could be peripheral to the subject at hand.

    Regarding “Mardi gras”, while it’s true that the French word gras can literally translate as “fat”, as in “grease”, I feel that “Fat Tuesday” is an oversimplification. The term gras as it’s used in French is more nuanced, for example “faire la grasse matinée” means to sleep in late, and “terre grasse” is fertile earth. Not a criticism, just for info!

    Not to SPAM your comment section, I didn’t realise I couldn’t edit post hoc.

  4. This one has me wondering why the Germans have the exact same calendar as us. They sure didn’t get it willilngly from the French. (Also, why they have ‘Mid-week’ instead of Oden’s Day).

    I know, I know- a future episode…

    Just heard about this podcast yesterday and I absolutely love it! Learning so much.

    • I haven’t specifically researched the development of the modern German calendar, but I would guess that it was borrowed from the Romans via the Holy Roman Empire. Again, that is just a guess.

      With respect to German “Mittwoch,” it was present in Old High German, and it replaced the Proto-Germanic form “*wuotanestag” (literally “Woden’s Day”). My research suggests that “Mittwoch” was a German translation of a term used in Church Latin.

      • The Wotanstag (Wodensday) was changed to Mittwoch (Mid-Week) when christian missionaries came to Germany in the 10th century to avoid celebrating the most important god, although I don’t understand why they still had a Wednesday in their homecountry. And interestingly, that Sonnabend (Sun-Evening, day before Sonntag / Sun-Day) came from the old english missionaries, too. In my childhood, about 30 years ago, Saturday was still bathing day for the whole family, because heating the water in the oven was such an annoying task… Was / is it the same day in GB?

  5. I’m loving this series having recently been referred to it, but I did have to be nitpicky on this episode…I know the history of English is the history of Europe to a vast extent, but this whole episode was constantly talking about things like “the Vernal Equinox in March” etc and I found that very hemisphere-centric, as an Antipodean 🙂 A simple disclaimer at the start mentioning that all the seasonal references were to Northern Hemisphere seasons would have been a nice acknowledgement of your Southern Hemisphere listeners 🙂

  6. Hi Kevin,

    I am an English as a Second Language teacher from Illinois. Yes, I spend my days working with immigrants to help them learn English, but another part of my job is handling professional development (as I do training for my district, as well as local and state agencies). Currently, I’m working on a project that links together the history of how we reckon time along with it’s religious, linguistic, and astronomical elements. Could you refer me to a book or a couple of links where I may be able to find some comparative information on the names of days, months, season, etc.? Thank you so much. I love your podcast.

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