This question about Top of the morning got me thinking.

Most west european words for today are akin, said to be influenced by Latin hodie1. But Sanskrit adja, from * PIE *h₁e-dy-és, *h₁é (“this”, and then) + "day", follows the same scheme, and *h₁é "this, and then", *ḱe- "this", does not seem to make much of a difference.

That disconnect alone would warrant a question. It does seem to be a proper Proto-Indo-European term, perhaps with dialectal differences. What's the problem between *ḱ and *h₁, isn't this just evidence that a voiceless palatal stop and that laryngeal, that could be anywhere between a glottal stop [ʔ] and "an h sound [h]" (e.g. a voiceless glottal fricative), were, for lack of a better word, pretty close, not to say rather variable (I mean a stop is in principle not phonetic, so the phonemic realization might vary easily, unless it's contrasting)?

Bonus points if "ahoy-hoy" belongs here.


  • Ger heute, OE hēodæġ, from PGmc *hiz "this" + dagaz "day", *hiz from PIE *ḱe; The Nordic i dag variants probably belong here to, I presume.

  • Welsh heddiw from PCelt *so-~se- "this" + "day" (surely from PIE *ḱe?);

  • Ru сего́дня (sevodnja), from PSlav *sь "this" + *dьnь "day", *sь from PIE *ḱe;

  • Agr σήμερον (sḗmeron), first part from PIE *ḱe

  • Fr hui Sp huy from Vulgar Latin *oie, from Latin hodie, hoc "this" + die "day", hoc from PIE *ḱe. y

  • 1
    Aren't most of these words formed in historical times? We know when Latin "hoc+die=hodie" appeared, and English "to+day=today" is centuries later, and Norwegian "i+dag=idag" not until the late 19th century (and it was rejected as a word in 1938 reforms). Sure, maybe the English and Norwegian were influenced by the preposition+day Latin structure, while the German went with this instead of a preposition under the influence of the Latin sounds, or something like that, but whether that's true or not, surely they didn't inherit a word from PIE.
    – abarnert
    Jan 13 '19 at 17:16
  • 1
    I suspect that forming "today" as a contraction of either "to+day" or "this+day" is just the kind of obvious thing that many languages will independent hit on. Japanese "honjitsu" is pretty similar, but presumably it was either borrowed from Chinese or invented in Japanese, not inherited from PIE, right? And meanwhile, if every IE language contracted this+day completely independently, they'd still mostly look pretty similar because they mostly have related words for this and day.
    – abarnert
    Jan 13 '19 at 17:21
  • @abarnert disregard the Norwegian then. The basic question is why the Latin would be significant for German. It certainly may have helped to reinforce the idea, sure, but if it's such an obvious construction that supposedly existed in PIE already, why assume a a disconnect?
    – vectory
    Jan 14 '19 at 9:48
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    By the way, for your bonus points: ahoy-hoy < (modern English nautical jargon) ahoy < (Dutch) gooi < (Middle Dutch) goyen, which seems to be etymologically uncertain, but is clearly unrelated to anything having to do "dagaz", or anything else meaning "day" (or "this"/"here", or the prepositions used in Dutch, English, or any other languages instead). I see from searching around a bit that someone has argued that "ahoy" actually comes from German "Heu", which happens to sound like the first syllable of "heute", but is etymologically unrelated.
    – abarnert
    Jan 15 '19 at 11:17
  • 1
    More generally, I'm getting the feeling that you don't understand the basic principles of how this works. To posit a genetic relationship, you can't just find two syllables that sound kind of similar in words with kind of related meanings. You need to establish a derivation that follows regular rules that match hundreds of other derivations. What you're doing is more akin to Greenberg-style mass comparison—but even more useless, because it's without the "mass" part.
    – abarnert
    Jan 17 '19 at 4:03

There's no evidence that "today" is a PIE term, and plenty of evidence that it isn't. For example:

  • Different IE languages have contracted different roots to make their "today" words. That's already enough to rule out common descent.
    • In fact, the roots often don't even all have the same semantics: about half of them are "this+day" like German, about half are "preposition+day" like English, and maybe a few oddballs here and there. The ones that use prepositions often use different ones, like English "to+day" vs. Dutch "from+day" vs. Danish "in/on+day".
    • And these differences are clearly not at all distributed based on descent; Sanskrit and German are certainly not more closely related than German and Low German.
  • These contractions appear long after the languages had diverged, which again is usually enough on its own to rule out common descent.2, 3
  • Many non-IE languages have constructions that are semantically just as close as to "today" and "heute" as they are to each other, like Japanese "honjitsu" and Arabic al-yawma.

So, if they're independent coinages, why do some of them look so similar?

Well, it looks (see Arabic, Japanese, etc.) like forming "today" as a contraction is the kind of obvious thing that many languages will hit on once the host culture reaches a point where it needs a word like that.

There are only so many things you can plausibly contract to get "today": "to+day", "on+day", "this+day"… And if two different IE languages both contract their words for "this+day", those words are often going to be cognates, so the result will often look similar.

But again, notice that many of them are not cognates, and it seems to be almost random which ones are. Which is exactly what you'd expect from different IE languages developing their words independently, but out of a small and mostly-shared pool of inputs.

So, what do etymologists mean when they say OHG "hiutu" is a contraction of "hiu+tagu" possibly influenced by Latin hodie?

First, you asked in the comments why Latin would affect German in the first place. That's easy. When people were speaking OHG, Latin was the language of their religion, diplomacy, civil administration, and (if you include vulgar Latin) much of their trade. Almost any OHG speaker who was literate was literate in Latin. And Latin influence on Germanic languages even goes back long before that—the Romans were hiring Germans as mercenaries, resettling them all over Europe, and converting them to Christianity centuries before Charlemagne.

Also, notice that some of the Germanic languages ended up with a direct calque of the Latin contraction, but others are "phonocalques"—contractions that stretch the Latin semantics a bit further, but sounds a lot more like the Latin, especially with "heute". That could be a coincidence, but it certainly makes influence look even more plausible. I don't know exactly how compelling that argument is, but remember, the etymological dictionaries only say "possibly influenced".

1. Some as late as modern times—Norwegian rejected "idag" as an invalid new coinage in the 1938 reforms. Obviously the Latin and Greek aren't that new, but they appeared well after the start of historical writing, which is still millenia after the breakup of PIE.

2. Also, some languages coined the same idea multiple times. Low German "vandage" ("from+day") replaced "hiudu" ("this+day") in historical times. (Earlier, "hiudu" apparently replaced "hi(u)digu", which is formed from the same roots, but contracted differently. But it seems plausible to me that "hiudu" could be a borrowing from OHG "hiutu" rather than a re-coinage, so let's ignore it.)

  • 1
    Where are you getting "day+now" for Greek? σήμερον / τήμερον is "this day", from deictic *ki- plus ἡμέρα "day" (with a change of gender).
    – TKR
    Jan 15 '19 at 2:23
  • @TKR I don't know Greek, but the source I got that from says σήμερα is from Ancient Greek for "day", with the ending from τώρα "now". Checking a couple other sources, it looks like the Ancient Greek in question is σήμερον, which comes from kyāmeron, which does indeed mean "here + day" or "this + day", so the modern is more "today+now", or even "today, slightly modified by now", not "day+now". But I don't see how it changes the point.
    – abarnert
    Jan 15 '19 at 8:09
  • @abarnert AGr emar "day" does in my Humble opinion look a bit like Semitic *ywm (arab al-yawam, hebr hayom) but what do I know. 今天 and 今日 derive day likewise from a sense sky, sun and eventually god. Note how today we write the day of Tyr, like every given tuesday. honjitsu derives from a sense "blade of grass" in one reading and "book" in another (moto and hon). Note that leaves are commonly used for writing (and grass blades surely allude to tally mark counting strokes, too). "First, you asked in the comments why Latin would affect German in the first place" no, I didn't.
    – vectory
    Jan 15 '19 at 9:57
  • "Different IE languages have contracted different roots to make their "today" words. That's already enough to rule out common descent". I remain unconvinced by your remark. They all reflect *ke and I'm not sure that was still productive everywhere (if not, but fossilized, that would be it); The difference between *deyw- and *dhegwh- is, admittedly somerhing I overlooked whhen writing the question, but I think there's good reason not to addopt the stance that language began only with the youngest layer of PIE reconstructions.
    – vectory
    Jan 15 '19 at 10:03
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    @vectory Finally, for the important part: They do not all reflect *ke. English to, Dutch van, and Danish i trace back to PIE *doh, *apo, and *hen, all completely unrelated to *ke. Even Latin hoc isn't *ke, it's *ghi + *ke. This is why I've ignored your attempt to somehow merge *h₁é and *ke and somehow even *so into the same morpheme: because even granting that, it still doesn't make most of the IE words cognate, so you still have to explain English, Dutch, Danish, Armenian, etc. And why some of the languages that do have *ke have it as the suffix rather than the prefix. Etc.
    – abarnert
    Jan 15 '19 at 10:22

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