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A short (and incomplete) history of Friday

By Lauren Appelwick, Blog Editor

Yesterday I was sitting at my desk, pondering…normal things that bloggers ponder…when my friend Cassie shared this link with me.  If you haven’t seen the “Friday” music video, then perhaps the forecast just seems silly, but it inspired me to think about how fast the senses and connotations of words change. For most people, Friday is just the name of a day of the week, but for the moment it’s also the source of many inside jokes and references to Rebecca Black. She is, obviously, a big fan of Fridays because it marks the end of her school week and the beginning of the weekend. We have such acronyms to show our love for the day as TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday), and what seems to be a widespread distaste for Mondays. (*Ahem* Garfield. *Cough* Office Space.)

So the question is: did people always like Friday? Did we choose Friday as the end of the work week because it was already well-loved?

{ASIDE: I was just beginning my research when fellow blogger Levi Asher (Literary Kicks) teased me with this Wikipedia link, encouraging that I “meet [his] friend Frigg.” To this I replied, “How long have you been friends?” and he answered, “Since Thor’s Day.” Well played, Levi. Well played indeed.}

We begin with the OED.

Friday, n.
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈfrʌɪdeɪ/ , /ˈfrʌɪdi/ , U.S. /ˈfraɪˌdeɪ/ , /ˈfraɪdi/

1. The day following Thursday and preceding Saturday, traditionally regarded as the sixth day of the week, but now frequently considered as the fifth, and also as the last day of the working week and (especially in the evening) the start of the weekend. In the Catholic Church, Friday, along with Wednesday and Saturday, has traditionally been observed as one of the days for abstaining from eating meat, fish being the popular alternative. In Judaism, sunset on Friday marks the beginning of the Sabbath, which ends at sunset on Saturday.

So far, pretty simple. We see that Friday’s position in the week is appears to be most strongly connected to Judeo-Christian traditions. I didn’t really expect to discover anything spectacular, I was just satiating my own curiosity–and why bother the Oxford Etymologist with such small queries? But then I noticed a sense that was new to me.

Friday-look, n.
now rare (Eng. regional in later use). a serious or gloomy face or expression (cf. Friday-face n.).

a1716    R. South Serm. (1717) VI. 109   If he steps forth with a *Friday-look and a Lenten Face‥Oh! then he is a Saint upon Earth.
1846    M. A. Denham Coll. Prov. & Pop. Sayings 6   Has a Friday look (sulky, downcast).
1872    J. Glyde Norfolk Garland 150 in G. L. Apperson Eng. Prov. & Proverbial Phrases (1929) 236   He has a Friday look.

I was surprised at the negativity, as in my mind, a ‘Friday-look’ would be something more like this.  Scrolling even further down…

FRIDAY, born on

1846 DENHAM Proverbs 11 n. A child born on a Friday is doomed to misfortune.
1870 N & Q 4th ser. VI 211 [Walton-le-Dale, Lancs., c. 1820] It was accounted unlucky for a child to be born on a Friday, unless it happened to be Good Friday, when the untowardness of the event was counterbalanced by the sanctity of the day.
1967 S. MARSHALL Fenland Chronicle pt. I XIII. The old song says: ‘Never be born on a Friday, Choose some other day if you can.’

Everything was getting so depressing! Where was the Friday I know and love? It seemed lost, lost forever! Navigating to Oxford Reference Online, I dug up an entry from A Dictionary of Superstitions, edited by Iona Opie and Moira Tatem:

The belief that Friday is an unlucky day goes back to the Middle Ages, and is widely attested. As early as 1390 Chaucer wrote ‘And on a Friday fell all this mischance’, and throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries there are ample references to people thinking this a bad day on which to do business, travel, move house, start a new piece of work, be born, or get married (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 167–9). This is probably an indirect consequence of the old Catholic rule that Fridays are a day for penance. It is still very strong, and has some specifically modern developments, for instance that Friday is now thought to be a day on which many road accidents occur. Similarly, if a car or machine frequently breaks down, it may be said that ‘It must have been made on a Friday’, though here the implication is not always superstitious; sometimes what is meant is that the workmen, eager for the weekend, were too slapdash.

The night between Friday and Saturday is also significant. Dreams that come then are trustworthy; a current saying runs:

Friday’s dream on Saturday told
Is bound to come true, be it never so old.

In David Copperfield (chapter 1), Dickens says that babies born at midnight on a Friday night are fated to be unlucky and will be able to see ghosts; according to Ruth Tongue, they have even wider powers:

In the early years of this century, old people in West Somerset still firmly believed that children born after midnight on a Friday and before cockcrow could see and talk to ghosts and fairies, and come to no harm. They also had power over black witchcraft, and could cure ailing animals and plants…. I have found that the fact that I was myself so born has been an Open Sesame to many carefully guarded secrets. (A Dictionary of English Folklore 69 (1958), pp.43)

Since I am a blogger and not a more curious graduate student, it was at that point I stopped my research into what was becoming…well, a total bummer.

To history, I say nay! I shan’t have you ruin this most wonderful of days! So to quote our most recent viral video diva, “It’s Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday.”

Recent Comments

  1. […] On the other hand, Fridays are also not great either. “A child born on a Friday is doomed to misfortune” according to a book of proverbs published in 1846 (Oxford University Press’ Blog). […]

  2. […] On the other hand, Fridays are also not great either. “A child born on a Friday is doomed to misfortune” according to a book of proverbs published in 1846 (Oxford University Press’ Blog). […]

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