Care with Cognates

I’ve complained before about cognates. I am known to rage a bit when I see something offensively wrong done in the name of reconstruction. But occasionally I see something that tickles me.

The Old Norse word for Saturday is laugurdagr “bathing day”. This is continued into the daughter languages:

  • Danish lørdag
  • Swedish lördag
  • Icelandic laugardagur
  • Norwegian lørdag or laurdag

Meanwhile in Old English, we have Sæternesdæg. Some, including Grimm, have tried to say that the day of the week is named after the otherwise unknown god Sæter(n), even though all evidence points to the Roman god Saturn.

And so people try to reconstruct things in a different direction and claim that this bathing day was a universal thing, despite an equal lack of evidence. Suddenly we have Old English *Lēagedæg. But there’s a major issue: while lēag is cognate with laug, their meanings differ already by this point. Lēag isn’t a bath, but rather lye, its modern form.1J.R. Clark Hall, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary

So I really hope that you like lye, as Lyeday is apparently a thing to some people. Good luck not getting any on your skin.


1 J.R. Clark Hall, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary

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