Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


OUR ENGLISH language has the word “today.” For the day immediately prior, we have “yesterday.” And for the day immediately following, there’s “tomorrow.” From there on, passages of time in English are multi-worded: “the day before yesterday,” “the day after tomorrow.”

By contrast, other languages are more efficient with their temporal identifiers. Let’s start with the core word “day,” then “day before yesterday,” then work the calendar forward, first in the Japanese language and then in German. I conclude with one of the corniest jokes I know concerning the German language.

Just Plain Ol’ Day, 日, hi. The Japanese word for day, sunshine, or sun is 日. This character is also part of the country’s name, 日本, Nihon, sun origin, poetically rendered in English as “Land of the Rising Sun.”

Flag of Japan. Image by Toshihiro Oimastsu, Tokyo, Japan.

Day Before Yesterday, 一昨日, ototoi. See immediately below: Though the spoken words are unrelated, note that the character “一” in 一昨日 modifies yesterday into the day before it, sort of a yester-yesterday.

Yesterday, 昨日, kino. The character 昨, saku can be rendered “last” in English.

Today, 今日, kyō. The character 今, ima is Japanese for now, today being logically the “now-day.”

Tomorrow, 明日, ashita. Separating its elements, 明日 is literally “sun-moon-day.”

Day After Tomorrow, 明後日, asatte. The character 後, ato is Japanese for later. Thus, the day after tomorrow is, in a sense, the “later-tomorrow.”

Concluding our Japanese etymology, we’re not surprised that 後日, gojitsu translates into the English “at a later date.”

Like Japanese, the German language has been accused of putting its verbs in unexpected places. However, both languages are fine when it comes to passages of time.

Flag of Germany.

A Plain Ol’ Day in German, Tag. The core word Tag comes from Old High German tagu. And note, by the way, modern German nouns take the upper case; used as an adverb (i.e., a “where/when/how” word), lower case. Because the following words have possible grammatical lives as nouns, I’m capitalizing them all here.

Day Before Yesterday, Vorgestern. See below. We’d guess that Gestern is the German equivalent of “yesterday,” and thus Vorgestern is “before-yesterday.”

Yesterday, Gestern. Full marks. Both Gestern and “yester” are from Proto-Indo-European.

Today, Heute. Its etymology is the Old High German hiu tagu, “this-day.”

Tomorrow, Morgen. Just as our “tomorrow” is an adverb, “morgen” is usually lower case. Upper case, Morgen can have a meaning of “the future.” The word Morgen also means “morning” in German, poetically enough related to Proto-Indo-European’s “to blink, to twinkle.”

Day After Tomorrow, Übermorgen. A “beyond-tomorrow,” logical as can be, all in a single word. Like Fussbodenschleifmascheinverleih, “floor sanding machine rental.”

Image by Photocapy.

I conclude with my shaggy Dachshund tale.

Early one day, a man named Morgen visits his local shoemaker to pick up a pair of shoes needing some work. He enters and says, “Morning.” The shoemaker responds, “Morning.”

The shoemaker, scratching his head, tries to recall the man’s name. The man, sensing this, says “Morgen…”

The shoemaker, his memory jogged, repeats “Morgen, Morgen,” and tells the man when the shoes will be ready: “Tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” the man confirms, a bit disappointed.

“Tomorrow,” the shoemaker promises.

The man, accepting the delay, cordially responds as he leaves, “Morning.” The shoemaker says likewise, “Morning.”

An exercise: Translate the dialogue into German, with appropriate intonations.

It’s good fun to take some linguistic knowledge, apply Google Translate, The Modern Reader’s Japanese-English Character Dictionary, and a bit of curiosity. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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