Saturn’s Bathing Day

The English word Saturday comes ultimately from the Proto-West Germanic *Sāturnas dag (Saturn’s day), which is a calque (translation) of the Latin diēs Saturnī (day of Saturn).


There are similar words in other West Germanic languages, such as West Frisian (saterdei), Low German (Saterdag), and Dutch (zaterdag), all of which mean Saturday [source].

There German word for Saturday, Samstag, comes from Middle High German sam(e)ztac, from Old High German sambaztag (Sabbath day), from Gothic *𐍃𐌰𐌼𐌱𐌰𐍄𐍉 (*sambatō), a version 𐍃𐌰𐌱𐌱𐌰𐍄𐍉 (sabbatō – Saturday, the Sabbath day), from Koine Greek σάββατον (sábbaton – Sabbath), from Hebrew שַׁבָּת‎ (šabbāṯ – Sabbath), possibly from Akkadian 𒊭𒉺𒀜𒌈 (šapattum – the middle day of the lunar month).

Words from the same roots include samedi (Saturday) in French, sâmbătă (Saturday) in Romanian, and szombat (Saturday, Sabbath) in Hungarian [source].

In northern and eastern Germany, another word for Saturday is Sonnabend (“Sunday eve”), as apparently in Germanic recking, the day begins at sunset. It a calque of the Old English sunnanǣfen (Saturday evening) [source].

Words for Saturday in the North Germanic languages have a different root, however. These include lördag in Swedish, lørdag in Danish and Norwegian, leygardagur in Faroese and laugardagur in Icelandic. They all come from the Old Norse laugardagr, from laug (pool) and dagr (day), so literally “bathing day” [source].

These words have also been borrowed into Finnic languages: Saturday is lauantai in Finnish, laupäev in Estonian and lavvantaki in Ingrian.

Are there any other languages in which Saturday means something like “bathing day”, or something else interesting?

See also: Days of the week in many languages on Omniglot.

Tarragon Dragons

What links the word tarragon to words like dragon and drake?


Tarragon is a perennial herb of the wormwood species Artemisia dracunculus native to Europe and Asia. It’s also known as estragon, dragon’s wort or silky wormwood. Other names are available.

The word tarragon comes from Middle French targon (tarragon), from Medieval Latin tragonia (tarragon), from Arabic طَرْخُون‎ (ṭarḵūn – tarragon), from Ancient Greek δρακόντιον (drakóntion – dragonwort, Dracunculus vulgaris), from δράκων (drákōn – dragon, serpent) [source].


The word dragon comes ultimately from the same Ancient Greek roots, via Middle English dragoun (dragon, drake, wyrm), Old French dragon (dragon), and Latin dracō/dracōnem (dragon) [source].

The word drake (a mayfly used as fishing bait, dragon [poetic], fiery meteor), also comes from the same Ancient Greek roots, via Middle English drake (dragon, Satan), Old English draca (dragon, sea monster, huge serpent), Proto-West-Germanic *drakō (dragon), and Latin dracō (dragon) [source].


Incidentally, the word drake, as in a male duck, comes from Middle English drake (male duck, drake), from Old English *draca, an abbreviated form of *andraca (male duck, drake, lit. “duck-king”), from Proto-West Germanic *anadrekō (duck leader), from *anad (duck) and‎ *rekō (king, ruler, leader) [source].

Jot & Tittle

Jot and Tittle – it would be a good name for firm of printers, but actually means a smallest detail or the smallest details. It is often preceded by every, as in “every jot and tittle”.

Jot and Title

A version of this phrase appears in the Bible (Matthew 5:18):

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Another example include “He did not get every jot and tittle, but the plan ultimately adopted was viable.”

Jot can refer to:

  • Iota (Ι ι), the smallest letter or stroke of any writing.
  • A small amount, bit; the smallest amount.
  • A brief and hurriedly written note.
  • A moment, an instant. (obsolete))

It comes from Latin iōta (a Greek letter), from Ancient Greek ἰῶτα (iôta [Ι ι] – a letter in the Greek alphabet; a very small part of writing). The name of the letter comes from Phoenician 𐤉‬‎ (y‬ – yōd/yodh), which comes from Proto-Semitic *yad- (hand). The letter is based on an Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph meaning hand or arm (𓂝).

The English word iota (a jot, a very small, insignificant quantity) comes from the same roots.

Tittle can refer to:

  • Any small dot, stroke, or diacritical mark, especially if part of a letter, or if a letter-like abbreviation; in particular, the dots over the Latin letters i and j.
  • A small, insignificant amount (of something); a modicum or speck.

It comes from the Middle English title / titel(e) (inscription, small mark or stroke made with a pen), from Anglo-Norman titil, from Medieval Latin titulus (title of a book, heading, tablet, inscription, epitaph), which probably comes from Etruscan.

Words from the same roots include tilde (e.g. ã, ñ, õ), and title in English, and tildar (to declare, brand, stigmatize, put a tilde or other accent mark over, to go into a trance) in Spanish.


Hanging Nails

A hangnail is an angry nail, not a nail that’s hanging off. Let’s find out more.

Rusty key / rusten nøkkel

A hangnail is:

  • A loose, narrow strip of nail tissue protruding from the side edge and anchored near the base of a fingernail or toenail.
  • A pointed upper corner of the toenail (often created by improperly trimming by rounding the corner) that, as the nail grows, presses into the flesh or protrudes so that it may catch (“hang”) on stockings or shoes.

It comes from the old word agnail (a corn or sore on the toe or finger, torn skin near a toenail or fingernail), from Middle English agnail, from Old English angnægl, from ang (compressed, narrow, tight) and nægl (nail), from Proto-Germanic *naglaz (nail, peg), from Proto-Indo-European *h₃nogʰ- (nail). It was reanalyised as hang + nail in folk etymology [source].

Ang comes from Proto-Germanic *angus (narrow, tight) from Proto-Indo-European *h₂énǵʰus, (narrow, tight), from *h₂enǵʰ- (to constrict, tighten, narrow, tight, distresed, anxious) [source].

Words from the same root include anger, angina, angst, anguish, anxiety and anxious in English, ahdas (tight, narrow, cramped) in Finnish, cúng (narrow) in Irish, and узкий [ˈuskʲɪj] (narrow, tight) in Russian [source].

The word England possibly comes from the same root (at least the first syllable does) – from Middle English Engelond (England, Britain), from Old English Engla land (“land of the Angles”), from Proto-West Germanic *Anglī, from Proto-Germanic *angulaz (hook, prickle), from Proto-Indo-European *h₂enk- (to bend, crook), which may be related to *h₂enǵʰ- (to constrict, tighten, etc) [source].

Other names for hangnail include whitlow, wicklow, paronychia and nimpingang [source].

Whitlow comes from Middle English whitflaw. The whit part comes from Middle Dutch vijt or Low German fit (abscess), from Latin fīcus (fig-shaped ulcer), and the flaw part comes from Middle English flawe, flay (a flake of fire or snow, spark, splinter), probably from Old Norse flaga (a flag or slab of stone, flake), from Proto-Germanic *flagō (a layer of soil), from Proto-Indo-European *plāk- (broad, flat). [source]

Wicklow is a common misspelling of whitlow, and paronychia comes from Ancient Greek παρα (para – beside), and ὄνῠξ (ónux – claw, nail, hoof, talon) [source]

Nimpingang comes from Devonshire dialect and refers to “a fester under the finger nail”. Nimphing gang is an alternative version, and in West Somerset it is known as a nippigang. It comes from impingall (ulcer, infected sore), from Old English impian (to graft) [source] from Proto-West Germanic *impōn (to graft), from Vulgar Latin imputō (to graft), from Ancient Greek ἔμφυτος (émphutos – natural, (im)planted) [source]

Words from the same roots include imp (a small, mischievous sprite or a malevolent supernatural creature) in English and impfen (to inoculate, vaccinate) in German [source]

Sailing Away

While putting together a post on my Celtiadur blog about words for ships and boats in Celtic languages, I realised that words for boats, ships and other nautical things in English come from many different languages. So I thought I’d write a blog post about them.

Laxey / Laksaa

The word boat comes from Middle English bot (boat, the path or course of one’s life), from Old English bāt (boat), from Proto-West Germanic *bait, from Proto-Germanic *baitaz (boat, small ship), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰeyd- (to break, split) [source].

The French word bateau (ship, boat), the Dutch word boot (boat), and the German word Boot (boat) were all borrowed from Middle or Old English.

Words for boat in North Germanic languages, such as Swedish (båt), Danish (båd) and Icelandic (bátur), were borrowed from Old Norse bátr, which was borrowed from Old English bāt (boat) [source].

Some words for boat in Irish (bád), Scottish Gaelic (bàta), Manx (baatey) and Welsh (bad) were also borrowed from Old English or Old Norse [source].


The word ship comes from Middle English schip (ship, boat), from Old English scip (ship), from Proto-West Germanic *ship (ship), from Proto-Germanic *skipą (ship), from unknown origins [source].

Ship can be used to refer to a water-borne vessel generally larger than a boat, while boat usually refers to vessels smaller than a ship but larger than a dinghy. Boat also refers to submarines of any size, and lakers (ships used in the Great Lakes trade in North America).

Sunday Sailing.

A dinghy is a small open boat, propelled by oars or paddles, carried as a tender, lifeboat, or pleasure craft on a ship; a sailing dinghy, or an inflatable rubber life raft. It comes from Bengali ডিঙি (ḍiṅi – canoe), probably from Sanskrit द्रोण (droṇa – wooden vessel, bucket, trough), Proto-Indo-Iranian *dráwnam (wooden object), from Proto-Indo-European *dréw-no-m, from *dóru (tree, wood) [source].

A yacht is a sailing boat larger than a dinghy but smaller than a sailing ship, often with a cabin. It can also be a motor-powered private boat. It comes from yeaghe (light, fast sailing ship) from Dutch jacht (yacht, hunt), from jaghtschip (light sailing vessel, fast pirate ship: lit. “pursuit ship”).

Apparently the original Dutch jaghtschip were built to chase pirates and smugglers from the coast. In 1660 the Dutch East India Company presented one to King Charles II, who used it as a pleasure boat. It was then copied by British shipbuilders as a pleasure craft for wealthy gentlemen [source].

Tall Ships 015 Gloriaa_C

Another type of boat is a barque, which is a sailing vessel with three or more masts, with all masts but the sternmost square-rigged. It comes from Middle English barke (boat), from Middle French barque, from Latin barca (baris – a type of flat-bottomed freighter used on the Nile in Ancient Egypt), from Ancient Greek βᾶρις (bâris – Egyptian boat), from Coptic ⲃⲁⲁⲣⲉ (baare – small boat), from Demotic br, from Ancient Egyptian bꜣjr (transport ship, type of fish) [source].


The word barge (A large flat-bottomed towed or self-propelled boat used mainly for river and canal transport of heavy goods or bulk cargo), comes from the same roots, as does the Spanish barco (boat), the Galician barco (ship, boat, barge) and the Portuguese barco (boat) [source].

Green Canoe

The word canoe (a small long and narrow boat, propelled by one or more people) comes from Spanish canoa (canoe), probably from Taino *kanowa (canoe), from Proto-Arawak *kanawa (caone) [source].

Inuit kayak

Canoes are generally open on top, while kayaks are covered over except for the cockpit where the paddler sits. Kayak comes from Inuktitut ᖃᔭᖅ (qayaq – kayak, man’s boat), from Proto-Eskimo *qayaʁ (kayak) [source].


If kayaks are men’s boats, are there women’s boats as well? There are – they are the umiak (a large, open boat made of skins stretched over a wooden frame that is propelled by paddles), from Inuvialuktun ᐅᒥᐊᖅ (umiaq – women’s boat) [source].

Incidentally, navy (a country’s entire sea force, including ships and personnel) comes from Middle English nave (navy), navye, from Old French navie (navy), from Latin nāvigia, from nāvigium (vessel, ship boat, from nāvis (ship, boat, vessel), from Proto-Indo-European *néh₂us (boat). In Old English navy was sciphere (“ship army”) [source].

English words from the same roots include navigate, nave, nautical and astronaut (lit. “star sailor”) [source].

Hiding in Caves

In this post we find out what links the word grotesque with caves and hiding.


Grotesque [ɡɹəʊˈtɛsk / ɡɹoʊˈtɛsk] as an adjective means:

  • Distorted and unnatural in shape or size; abnormal, especially in a hideous way
  • Disgusting or otherwise viscerally revolting
  • Sans serif (in typography)

As an noun it means:

  • A style of ornamentation characterized by fanciful combinations of intertwined forms
  • Anything grotesque
  • A sans serif typeface

It comes from Middle French grotesque (farcical, ridiculous; small cave, ornament), from Italian grottesco (grotesque) from grotta (cave, grotto) and -esco (relational suffix) [source]. Grotta comes from Vulgar Latin *grupta/*crupta, from Latin crypta (underground passage, tunnel, crypt, vault), from Ancient Greek κρυπτή (kruptḗ – crypt, vault) from κρύπτω (krúptō -hide), the origins of which are unknown [source].

Words from the same roots include grotto and crypt in English, grot (cave, cavern) in Dutch, and grotte (cave) in French [source].

The words grotty and gro(a)dy and clippings of grotesque: grotty is used in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and means unpleasant, dirty, slovenly, offensive [source], shoddy, rundown, disgusting, gross, bad [source], while gro(a)dy is used in the USA and means nasty, dirty, disgusting, foul, revolting, yucky or grotesque [source].

Grody is shortened even further into gro (disgusting, unpleasant; gross), although that might come from gross [source].

Desks, Discs and Discos

What links the words desk, dais, disc, disco, dish and discus?

My studio / office
My desk in my office/studio

The answer is, they share the same roots: the Latin word discus (a discus, quoit, dish-shaped object, disc of a sundial), but arrived in English via different routes [source].

Desk comes from the Middle English deske (a reading desk or lecturn), from the Medieval Latin desca, from the Latin discus [source].

Dais (a raised platform in a room for a high table, a seat of honour, a throne, or other dignified occupancy) comes from the Middle English deis (podium, dais, high table), from the Anglo-Norman deis (dais, high seat/table, table of honour), from the Old French deis/dois, from the Latin discum, the accusative singular of discus [source].

Disc (a thin, flat, circular plate or similar object; a gramophone record) comes from the French disque (disc, discus, record, disk), from the Latin discus [source].

Disco, is an abbreviation of discoteque, which was borrowed from the French discothèque (discotheque, nightclub), from disque (disc, record) and bibliothèque, (library). It originally it meant “a library of discs/records”. Disque comes from the Latin discus [source].

Dish comes from the Middle English disch (dish, plate, bowl, discus), from the Old English disċ (plate, dish), from the Proto-West Germanic *disk (dish) from the Latin discus [source].

Discus comes directly from the Latin discus, from the Ancient Greek δίσκος (dískos – disc, dish, round mirror), the origins of which are uncertain [source].

Disk is used interchangeably with disc, and means more or less the same things. However, it comes straight from the Ancient Greek δίσκος [source].

The Fastest Way to Learn Japanese Guaranteed with

Seeding Discord

Yesterday I learnt an interesting phrase in French – semer la zizanie, which means to stir up ill-feeling, to mess around/about, to drive a wedge (between) or to wreak/raise havoc [source].

J. Zizanie des marais P8100001 2

The word semer means to sow, spread, scatter, lose or shake off. You can also semer le doute (cast doubts), semer la panique (spread panic) or semer la discorde (sow/seed discord, foster division) [source].

It comes from the Latin sēmināre (to sow), from sēminō (I plant, sow), from sēmen (seed, graft, offspring, cause), from the Proto-Italic *sēmen (seed), from the Proto-Indo-European *séh₁mn̥ (seed), from seh₁- (to sow, plant). English words from the same roots include season, seed, seminar and sow [source].

Zizanie means discord or ill-feeling, and comes from the Latin zīzania (tares, cockle), from zizā̆nium (tares, cockle, darnel, jealousy, discord), from the Ancient Greek ζῐζᾰ́νῐον (zizánion – darnel, ryegrass), from the Aramaic זזניא‎, from the Sumerian 𒍣𒍝𒀭 (zizān – wheat) [source].

Words from the same roots include زِوَان‎ (ziwān – darnel, ryegrass) in Arabic, zizzania (darnel, tare, discord) in Italian, and cizaña (darnel, tare, dissension, enmity) [source].

Tare is a vetch or any of the tufted grasses of genus Lolium [source]. Darnel is a species of ryegrass of the genus Lolium temulentum [source], and cockle is another name for the same plant [source].

Incidentally, the word wreak, which only appears in the phrase to wreak havoc (to cause damage, disruption or destruction), and a few other phrases, means to cause harm, afflict, inflict, harm, injure; to chasten, chastise, punish, smite, and used to mean to inflict or take vengeance on, or to take vengeance for [source].

Water Trumpets

Last night while talking about the weather in French, as you do, one expression that came up was une trombe d’eau, which means a cloudbust, downpour or waterspout [source]. There have been several of these this week.

The word trombe [tʁɔ̃b] on its own means waterspout or whirlwind [source]. It comes from the Italian tromba (trumpet, horn, bugler, well, shaft), possibly from the Frankish *trumba (trumpet), which is of imitative origin [source].

Other phrases featuring trombe include:

  • entrer en trombe = to burst in, storm in
  • sortir en trombe = to burst out, storm out
  • partir en trombe = to accelerate away
  • passer en trombe = to zoom past, hurtle past

A related word from the same roots is trompe [tʁɔ̃p], which means a trumpet, the trunk of an elephant [source] or a squinch (a small arch, corbelling, etc, across an internal corner of a tower, used to support a superstructure such as a spire) [source].

Shiny brass 3

Another word with the same roots is tromper [tʁɔ̃.pe] (to deceive, cheat on, disapoint, elude), which comes from the Old French tromper (to tramp, trump, delude), from trompe (horn, trump, trumpet) [source].

The English word trumpet also comes from the same roots, via the Old French trompette (trumpet), a diminutive or trompe [source]. As does the word trombone, via the Italian trombone (trombone, annoying or boring person), from tromba (trumpet) and -one (augmentative suffix) [source].

The trump an elephant makes, which is also a slang word for flatulence in the UK, and used to mean a trumpet, comes from the Old French French trompe (horn, trump, trumpet) [source]. However trump as in a trump card or a suit in cards is thought to come from the French triomphe (triumph), or the Old French triumphe, from the Latin triumphus (a hymn in honour of Bacchus, a triumph or celebration), from the Old Latin triumpus, from the Etruscan *𐌈𐌓𐌉𐌀𐌌𐌐𐌄 (*θriampe), from the Ancient Greek θρίαμβος (thríambos – a hymn to Dionysus) [source].


The word myriad [ˈmɪɹi.æd/ˈmɪɹi.əd] means a countless number or multitude, and in the past it meant 10,000. It comes from the French myriade (myriad, 10,000), from the Latin Latin myrias (10,000), from the Ancient Greek μυριάς (muriás – countless, 10,000), from μῡρῐ́ος (mūríos – numberless, countless, infinite) [source].

Peering through the dust
A myriad of stars

The use of 10,000 to mean countless or infinite happens in other languages as well. For example in Chinese 万 [萬] (wàn) means 10,000 or a great number [source]. The same character (man) in Japanese means 10,000, a myriad, everything, all or various. When pronounced ban it means completely, absolutely or totally [source].

Do other languages do something similar?

Other English words that refer to a large but unspecified number include um(p)teen or umpty, which come from umpty (a colloquial name for a dash in Morse Code used as World War I army slang) and -teen [source].

Also zillion, gazillion, bazillion, jillion, bajillion and squillion [source].

Do you have any others?