days of the week

SOMEHOW I BECAME a teacher again, but I have only one pupil, thank god, a boy who is learning both Finnish and English in school. He’s taken to Finnish. “It’s so easy. Yksitoista, kaksitoista, kolmetoista, neljätoista!” In Estonian, these are more or less the same, üksteist, kaksteist, kolmteist, et cetera. In English, he has to make odd unfamiliar sounds like the ‘th’ in thing and the ‘th’ in that, which used to be þ and ð, but were changed by some genius along the way. Terrible language, English. Even the days of the week are bizarre. Wednesday? What the hell is that? Today I explained the origins of the English days: Monday (moon day); Tuesday (for the Norse god Tiw, ruler of mortal combat); Wednesday, for Woden, the English equivalent of Odin; Thursday for hammer-wielding Thor; and Friday for the goddess Frigg (some say Freyja). “So many gods?!” the boy stared at me, wide eyed. Now he was paying attention. There is also Saturday, for the god Saturn, and then Sunday, the day of the sun, or päikesepäev. But there is one link to Estonian, their word for Friday, Reede, which also honors Freyja. Laupäev, their Saturday, also has Scandinavian origins, from the word for washing oneself. Even today, little bits of the Scandinavian world inform almost every aspect of our lives. They deserve to be credited alongside the ancient Greeks and Romans. Even the word from which Laupäev, the Estonian Saturday, is derived, laug, can be seen all around the Nordic world, where it signifies bathing, like my favorite pool, Vesturbæjarlaug, in Reykjavik. This is all rather hardcore nerd stuff to share with an 11-year-old kid who plays sports and such, but maybe relevant in some way, as if we could just realign our minds to the old pantheon of the Norse gods, we might regain some command over our astray systems and what we do each day as we spin around the sun. We have retained the names, but lost the knowledge. I still think he likes Finnish more than English, but that’s okay, so do I, kid. Yksitoista, kaksitoista, kolmetoista. Simple! Helppoa!

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