Friday, April 6, 2012

The Name of the Day

Today’s name in German is Karfreitag. Freitag means Friday, but you won’t find Kar even in a large German dictionary. It derives from the Old High German word kara. That word means sadness, mourning, and sorrow. It is thus a fitting modifier of the Friday in question. Indeed, among the languages at least faintly known to me, German is the only one that gives this day its sorrowful coloring. In most others the emphasis is on the status or importance of the day, thus its elevated, holy character. This is also true in English, where the good of Good Friday employs one of the meanings of “good,” thus piety and holiness. In Hungarian Nagy Péntek means Great Friday. In French it is le Vendredi saint, which is also echoed in Italian (Venerdi santo) and in Spanish (Viernes santo). The Finnish is Pitkäperjantai, meaning Long Friday. That designation was also an English usage long ago and derives from the fact that the day was marked by Jesus’ long suffering faintly echoed by believers during long periods of fasting and prayer. 


  1. Good Friday is the most somber day in the church calendar, so I've always hesitated at the appellation of "good." I like the German modification of the basic Freitag to give it a more poignant meaning. But, then, the Germans have never been afraid to string words together to get new words that mean whatever the heck they want. I was station in Germany during the 70s, and the lengths of some of the German words were truly frightening...your tongue started to twist even before you started to say them.

    1. So true! The language lends itself to abuse. German-speakers are well aware of that and frequently have fun inventing arm-long words to ridicule something, not least bureaucracy-speak.


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