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I always wondered why Wednesday is called Mittwoch in German, while the middle day of the week is actually Thursday.

Wikipedia says “from Old High German mittawehha”, which means it is like that since before 1000 AD. Did a week start on Sunday back then (which sounds very strange since Sunday is the catholic seventh day)? Or did the people already have a workweek from Monday to Friday, to which this is referring?

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    In the US Sunday is still considered the first day of the week; this used to be the case in Europe, too. It also works for a 5-day work week. Apart from that, it is what it is -- languages are seldom logic. – Ingmar Dec 10 '14 at 15:33
  • Similarly English speakers sometimes refer to Wednesday as hump day. – Octopus Dec 10 '14 at 16:57
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    I can vaguely remember to church where the priest says "... feiern wir den ersten Tag der Woche als den Tag, an dem Christus von den Toten auferstanden ist" (...we celebrate the 1st day of the week as the day of Christ's resurrection). – glglgl Dec 11 '14 at 9:09
  • @Ingmar Not only in the USA. Wikipedia has a nice map on which day is the first in different countries: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven-day_week#mediaviewer/… There you can also see that some countries even start their week on Saturday. – Matthias Dec 11 '14 at 9:23
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Sonntag – Wikipedia:

Der Sonntag [...] ist heute im deutschsprachigen Raum der siebte Wochentag, kulturhistorisch aber der erste.


Nowadays Sunday is the seventh weekday in the German language area. Historically it was the first.

Und damit hat der Mittwoch seinen Namen zurecht, denn er liegt in der Mitte der Woche.

  • Ergänzung: Das Unix-date-Kommando bietet zur Formatierung auch zwei Alternativen für die Tageszählung an: "%u Tag der Woche (1..7); 1 steht für Montag, %w Tag der Woche (0..6); 0 steht für Sonntag" (Zitat: date --help, Ubuntu). – user unknown Oct 28 '16 at 6:14
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Ancient Jewish tradition placed Sunday as the first day, with Saturday being the day of rest in honor of God's post-creation rest. Europe inherited this numbering via Christianity, which moved the day of rest to Sunday, still the first day, in honor of Jesus' resurrection. The church sometimes also refers to Sunday figuratively as the eighth day, in anticipation of being outside of time in heaven. Europeans 1000 years ago had a workweek from Monday through Saturday, and had Sunday off if they were lucky, plus several assorted special days off throughout the year. The past century gave many of us a shorter workweek, and in parts of Europe a new first day of the week, Monday. In Europe the seven days of the week were originally named, in Greek or Germanic, after the seven planets visible to ancient and medieval astronomers, in order by day: Sun (1=Sunday=Sonntag), Moon (...), Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn. In German the "Wodan~Mercury" connection with the fourth day was replaced by the positional "mid-week" term "Mittwoch". I find it an interesting paradox that, as in the case above, sometimes in German a germanic root is lost, whereas in a derived language like English it is retained. Another example is English "window" (a germanic "wind-eye" or "Wind-Auge") versus German "Fenster" (ultimately from Latin).

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    In German/English the names come not from planets, but from gods: Tiu/Tyr (Dienstag), Donar/Thor (Donnerstag), Freya (Freitag) – Wolf Dec 11 '14 at 9:30
  • @ Wolf: But Saturnus, Luna and Sol were gods, too. The Latin names were dies Solis (day of Sol/Helios in Greek mythology), dies Saturni (day of Saturn/Chronos in Greek) and dies Lunae (day of Luna/Selene in Greek). So the names today are a mix of Roman/Greek and Norse Gods. – user12351 Dec 11 '14 at 17:21
  • There is a very complicated connection, about which I am no expert, between the mythologies of the Greeks, Romans, and Norse identifying gods to planets and to each other across cultures. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Mike Bossert Dec 11 '14 at 21:13
  • To the question, Wolf is right about the general origin of German and English weekday names from gods. The only exceptions in German are Mittwoch and Samstag (from Hebrew Shabat for day of rest on Day 7). For English there are no exceptions, other than Saturday coming from Latin (Saturn) instead of Germanic. – Mike Bossert Dec 11 '14 at 21:22
  • I'm missing the word "Sabbath" in the Answer. :) – user unknown Dec 12 '14 at 7:00
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Yes, the week did start with Sunday, making Wednesday the middle day. In the "Deutsche Demokratische Republik" (East Germany) it was switched to Monday in 1968, in the "Bundesrepublik Deutschland" (Western Germany) in late 1975.

Weeks starting with Sunday its still the norm with Christian/Judaic/Islamic counts. According to biblical lore I'd have expected Sunday to be day seven instead of day one, too, but we probably shouldn't underestimate centuries of ecclesiastical politics.

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    Don't forget that the Old Testament is originally Jewish, not Christian, and the seventh day where you should rest is our Saturday, not our Sunday ... – Hartmut Holzgraefe Dec 10 '14 at 15:57
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    @Stephie Great, so it's understandable that I did not realize this change (in the age of 2). – Wolf Dec 11 '14 at 7:18
  • Sunday for the first day makes sense according to biblical lore. "Let there be light!" was on the first day of creation and it created the sun (presumably). – Harald Dec 11 '14 at 18:36
  • The sun and the moon were created on day four (Gen 1:14-19). – René Nyffenegger Dec 12 '14 at 7:56
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There is a long discussion of the position of Sunday in the week on Wikipedia. In English-speaking countries it is still often denoted as the first day of the week in the calendar.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunday#Position_in_the_week

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    ... much to my amusement (and annoyance); you split the weekend in two. </spam> – yo' Dec 10 '14 at 18:40
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    @tohecz So the weekend is both ends of the week! – David Richerby Dec 10 '14 at 23:53
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    Looking at this map you can see that the majority of countries starting the week on Sunday are not English-speaking, and that the majority of English-speaking countries (at least: UK, Ireland, India, Australia, New Zealand, Malta) start the week on Monday. – Matthias Dec 11 '14 at 11:05
  • @yo': Maybe more concretely: "the weekend" doesn't exist, as each week has two (half) weekends. – O. R. Mapper Sep 11 '15 at 22:48
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According to Duden Online, it stems from church latin media hebdomas. Before, it was Wodan's Day.

2

To follow on from what Wolf said, here's the Anglo-Saxon/Scandinavian...

Tew (Tyr) = Tuesday, Woden (Odin) = Wednesday, Thunor (Thor) = Thursday, Frig (Freya) = Friday.

These were mixed with the Roman-influence Saturn (Saturday), Sun (Sunday) and Moon (Monday) to form the 7 days of the current calendar system.

So, whether your week runs Sun-Sat, or a work week Mon-Fri, 'Mittwoch' is still 'MidWeek'

  • +1 True, not all days are named after gods. – Wolf Dec 11 '14 at 15:21
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It's simply the middle of the working week.

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The land-hungry powers of the West, both spiritual and temporal, sought to 'defuse' Germanic culture -by destroying its religious symbols wherever they could be found (e.g the destruction or subjugation of the 'Irminsul') and also in whatever form they appeared- in their conquest of tribal lands east of the Rhine. Woden was a powerful divinity of war, cultural inspiration and bravery in battle ('Wut' is a German word for 'rage' or berserk behaviour) and so this presence had to be expunged from tribal memory as part of the violent and bloody effort to render the tribes sufficiently docile in order that they finally accept Christianity. The neutral day-name 'Mittwoch' is an enduring scrap of evidence of the success of these powers in their bid to expand the area of European serfdom eastwards at the beginning of the ninth century of the Christian era.

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    Nice rant about the past, yet not an answer about which day is or was considered the "middle day" of the week. (Hint: we also don't do rants here...) – Stephie Oct 27 '16 at 14:45
  • Regarding the paragraph above that begins, "The land-hungry powers of the West..." I didn't read this as a rant and anyone who knows any German at all knows Mittwoch means mid-week. I wanted to know why, in German, any reference to Odin or Mercury was removed and the paragraph above that begins, "The land-hungry powers of the West..." was the first, anywhere, so far, that I've found addressing the actual reason the name was changed (yet in English, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish the relationship to Odin is maintained). – El Jaygee Nov 23 at 15:55

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