Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Only Gistradagis

The Gothic word for "tomorrow" is 𐌲𐌹𐍃𐍄𐍂𐌰𐌳𐌰𐌲𐌹𐍃, gistradagis. If that word looks familiar, it should. It's a compound made up of two elements:

gistra-, which is cognate with Old English geostran- which in Modern English becomes yester-.

-dagis is of course from dags, cognate with Old English dæg which becomes Modern English day.

That's right. The Gothic word for "tomorrow" is the same as our word for "yesterday." This is doubly curious, because the same set of compounds in every single cognate language, including words like Latin hesternus, mean "the day before this day." Gothic is the only one where it means "the day after this day."

In A Gothic Etymological Dictionary, Lehmann speculates the reason for this might be that the Proto-Germanic prefix *gistr- may have originally meant "adjacent day," and that in non-Gothic languages it may have taken the meaning "previous day" whereas in Gothic it took the meaning "next day."

Possibly supporting this idea is that in the Old Norse poem Hamðismál we see the cognate form used to speak of the next day:

Vel höfum vit vegit,
stöndum á val Gotna,
ofan eggmóðum,
sem ernir á kvisti;
góðs höfum tírar fengit,
þótt skylim nú eða í gær deyja;
kveld lifir maðr ekki
eftir kvið norna."
(Hamðismál stanza 30)

Currently reading: Worlds of Medieval Europe, by Clifford Backman
Current audio book: The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Currently translating: Aiwaggeljo Þairh Maþþaiu, Chapter VI, from Wright's Gothic Grammar.


  1. Well, that's a wibbly wobbly timey wimey sort of thing, isn't it?

    1. The Karen Carpenter reference in the title was specifically to lure you here.


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