July 30, 2012 | Portuguese

Days of the Week

Portuguese weekdays surprise me!

Today was a Monday. This seems like a good day to mention days of the week.

Portuguese days of the week are not at all what I was expecting, based on previous encounters with Romance languages.

Saturday (sábado) and Sunday (domingo) are typical. Nothing unexpected there.

But weekdays are surprising! Here, first, are the weekdays in the Romance languages that are more familiar to me (Italian, Spanish, French):

  • Monday: lunedì, lunes, lundi - all relating to “moon”
  • Tuesday: martedì, martes, mardi - all relating to the Roman god of war, Mars
  • Wednesday: mercoledì, miércoles, mercredi - all related to Mercury, the Roman messenger god
  • Thursday: giovedì, jueves, jeudi - all relating to Jove, the Roman god of gods
  • Friday: venerdì, viernes, vendredi - all relating to Venus, the goddess of love

See the consistency?

So then along comes Portuguese with this!

  • Monday: segunda-feira
  • Tuesday: terça-feira
  • Wednesday: quarta-feira
  • Thursday: quinta-feira
  • Friday: sexta-feira

Note the numbery-looking nature of these things. They mean “second day,” “third day,” “fourth day,” etc. (Actually I am getting mixed messages about how to translate feira, but sometimes people just translate it as “day.” It has a religious origin, I gather—not one of my strengths.)

I have seen numbering in days of the week before—in Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic—but not often.

Now, in my head, Monday is the first day. That is partly because it’s the first day of work or school, but it is also because each training week in my running logs, which I kept for years, started on a Monday and ended on a Sunday.

Therefore, in producing a day of the week in Portuguese, it often takes me a second to add 1 to my personal concept of whatever the day is. In other words, I would be inclined to call Tuesday segunda-feira, not terça-feira. It feels as though my head is racing to do the math so I can translate on time.

Also: you can drop the feira and say simply segunda to refer to Monday, quarta to refer to Wednesday, and so on. So instead of saying something akin to “on Monday,” you would say na segunda (on the second). 

Anyway, today, na segunda, I woke up freakishly early and hung out a bit in Verdi Square doing Italian Pimsleur (because I am concerned it is dying in my brain). There I saw two people reading newspapers in languages other than English.

Reading an Asian Newspaper. Maybe Chinese.

Reading an Asian-Language Newspaper. Maybe Chinese.

Reading El Diario

Reading El Diario

Then I headed downtown, where I went to volunteer for NYC & Company. They have an information kiosk at City Hall Park, in front of the Woolworth Building.

City Hall Station

City Hall Station

City Hall Park

City Hall Park

City Hall Park with Ketchup

City Hall Park with Ketchup

NYC & Company Information Kiosk

NYC & Company Information Kiosk

Downtown is full of tourists. At the 9/11 Memorial for sure, and always at the shopping mecca Century 21. It is incredibly multilingual in this part of town.

Comments (2)

Luciana • Posted on Fri, September 14, 2012 - 8:49 am EST

I can tell you that the names of the weekdays in Portuguese surprise everybody. Sometimes they count with their fingers, or they start with “primeira”, or change “terça” to “terceira”...

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, September 14, 2012 - 10:07 am EST

It is nice to have company in my confusion. :)

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