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DoW: Sunday, bloody Manchedi

By Arthur Harrison

The title of my 1st Silly Linguistics magazine article, a reference to one Day of the Week (DoW), is harmless enough for most mono-lingual Americans but may evoke strong emotions from the Brits, French, Irish, and certainly other cultures of which I’m undoubtably unaware. Working backward, the Irish rock band U2’s most political song, Sunday Bloody Sunday, refers to an incident of British troops killing civil rights protesters. Like the English, the French end each day of the week with ‘day’, or ‘di’ … well … except for Sunday, i.e., Dimanche. Finally, a harmless enough adjective in America, ‘bloody’, can be an offensive (even vulgar) word in England.

Constantine establishing Sunday as the Christian day of rest came with it the implication of being the 1st day, however, when combined with Saturday, we call it the ‘weekend’. Most wall calendars, indeed, split the ‘weekend’, by showing Sunday as the 1st day of the week. Decades ago, I worked for a company that held a photography contest with the top 12 entries replicated in their wall calendar which ended each week on Sunday, as a nod to The International Organization for Standardization. A colleague went to the effort of cutting off each Sunday and pasting it back at the beginning of each week, obscuring the photos and thereby affectively destroying the point of the calendar!

Prior to Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, he worshiped a sun god which has become a topic of debate as to whether the term ‘Sunday’ was a continued allegiance to a previous deity or a means to transition from polytheism to monotheism. Therefore, we’re left with not only the dichotomy of Sunday being the 1st day of the week and part of the weekend but also the Christian day of rest named after a non-Christian deity. Is Sunday the 1st day or the last? Is it set aside as a day for the God of Christianity/Islam/Judaism or an acknowledgement of a sun god? Is it the family name of a National League outfielder and American evangelist, Billy? Of course, all of the above.

Languages fall into four categories in their naming of this day of the week. Most written languages use a word that could be literally interpreted as either “day of the sun” or “the Lord’s Day”.

Those languages using “day of the sun” include Danish & Norwegian (Søndag), English (Sunday), German (Sonntag), Icelandic (Sunnudagur), Japanese (Nichiyōbi), Korean (Il-yo-Il), and Swedish (Söndag). Sanskrit uses both Ravivāra & Adityavāra where vāra means day and Aditya & Ravi are both names for a solar deity.

Those languages using “the Lord’s Day” include French (Dimanche), Greek (Κυριακή), Italian (Domenica), Romanian (Duminică), and Spanish & Portuguese (Domingo). In Russian, Воскресенье (or Voskreseniye) is the word for resurrection and, as such, refers to Jesus Christ as Lord [Luke 24:39-46].

Arabic (Al-Ahad) and Hebrew (Yom Rishon) take a 3rd approach which contrasts with the ISO approach of ending the week on Sunday. In each case, their word for ‘Sunday’ could be literally translated as “the 1st day”.

Mandarin Chinese provides two ways to represent this day of the week, neither of which is quite like the above approaches. X īngqírì means “the 7th day” whereas Xīngqítiān ends with a character related to the concept of Heaven.

Referring to Sunday as the 1st or 7th day may be perceived by a secular culture as standing the passage of time a bit more than “day of the sun” or “the Lord’s Day”. Therefore, of interest is how a more modern (early 19th century) means for communication represents ‘Sunday’. American Sign Language (ASL), perhaps more culturally representative of the U.S. than modern English which has been around for half a millennium, represents ‘Sunday’, not as a day of the “sun god” but as a day that is ‘sunny’, given the similarity of the motion for Sunday to the motion for ‘brilliant’.

So … do you think of the Day of the Week (DoW) after Saturday & before Monday as “the Lord’s Day”, a day for the “sun god”, “the 1st day”, “the 7th day”, a ‘sunny’ (or brilliant) day, or some combination thereof?

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1 Comment

  1. tbajoras

    Long-time language lover and fan of your site here! Just wanted to note that the correct translation for Mandarin “xīngqírì” is “sun day” (literally “day of week sun”). “The 7th day” would be “xīngqíqī.” So, it’s actually in line with the Germanic languages.

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