Tag Archives: Facebook
Recently I asked my Facebook connections if they could help me with a Latin phrase; the phrase has to do with the computation of days in the Julian calendar (calends, ides, nones, etc.). Here is my exact post:
“Calling all Romance Language speakers (French, Italian, Spanish, etc.): Does the following phrase (any of its words) render something similar in your language, and if so, what do those words mean? The phrase is in Latin, “Principium mensis cujusque vocato kalendas” I understand the first and last words, but am curious about the three middle words… Thanks for any help.”
Quite a discussion ensued; but I still don’t know if there is an etymological equivalent or relative to “cujusque.” One person suggested the connection of mensis (month) with the medical term – which I should have thought of as the German slang term is “Mens” for women’s monthly cycle. But all other entries tried to help me with the first and last word, and I spent more time explaining my request than I saved by asking in the first place.
This is a trend I’ve noticed on the rise on Facebook in particular, but I am aware that it’s also happening across Cyberland; too often people skim over a text and assume they’ve understood it well enough to make an informed contribution to a discussion. It’s harmless when it only has to do with topics of grammar and language; but when it also enters the formation process of people’s opinions in the political or social arenas, society beware. I usually ignore such discussions with a healthy dose of eye-rolling; but sometimes I have to intervene in the propagation of half-baked ignorance, or I won’t be able to sleep at night.
The illustration is a perfect example of this vague exactitude; people took the time to reply, but they did not take the time to properly read, to inform themselves of the actual task at hand. I have only two words to add: STOP IT!
We can blame both spellings on the Romans! February is fairly clear: Februa is thought to be a Sabine word (maybe we could blame them for italics, too), meaning “purifications”; Februarius mensis was the month of purification. Before 450 BC this was actually the last month in the ancient calendar and referred to the feast of purification celebrated on the ides of that month throughout the Roman Empire. Ides was the term used for approximately mid-month, being the 13th or 15th, depending on whether that particular month had 29 or 31 days. Interestingly, in English it replaced the Old English solmonað (“mud month”… very appropriate, that) sometime in the 12th century when they began using the Old French term Feverier.
Wednesday accumulated slightly more pedigree before landing in our agendas: It started off as the “day of (the god) Mercury,” the Latin dies Mercurii. It was confiscated by the Scandinavians for their own religious version for Odin, Oðinsdagr (Old Norse) or Onsdag in Swedish. This came with them over the Channel and was adopted by their English counterparts as wodnesdæg, or “Woden’s day.” Old Frisian came fairly close to modern English with Wonsdei (I’ve probably seen that spelling on Facebook from people who can’t type with their i-phones properly…). By the mid- 400 AD period, the Germanic Goths had been converted from Paganism to Christianity by Greek missionaries, and their language began to reflect the changes: The astrological or religious terms gave way to ecclesiastical (or at least neutral) ones. This difference is reflected in words like Mittwoch (German for Wednesday, meaning literally “mid-week”), sreda (Russian), or środa (Polish), both meaning literally “middle.”
So there you have it: Blame it on the Romans, or the Vikings; but whoever you blame, just remember to spell them in correct modern English.