Hybrid writing in East Village, New York

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Tal Kedem saw this sign the other day while walking with his son to a local playground.  It's for a newly opened restaurant on 9th street in New York's East Village.

They have written 木hursday, where "T" is replaced by "木".  That's pronounced "mù" and means "wood; timber; tree").  Aside from the clever blend of scripts, I can't think of any semantic association between mù 木 ("wood; timber; tree") and "Thursday" < "Thor's day", where "Thor" signifies "thunder".

I do not know anything about the cuisine served in the 木hursday restaurant, but it's probably East Asian or Asian fusion, so the owners likely had a good reason for substituting mù 木 ("wood; timber; tree") for "T".  Indeed, they must have been aware of at least some of the information in the following paragraphs, perhaps only the Japanese name for "Thursday".

From the Wikipedia article on the names of the days of the week:

The East Asian naming system of days of the week closely parallels that of the Latin system and is ordered after the "Seven Luminaries" (七曜 qī yào), which consists of the Sun, Moon and the five planets visible to the naked eye.

The Chinese seem to have adopted the seven-day week from the Hellenistic system by the 4th century, although by which route is not entirely clear. It was again transmitted to China in the 8th century by Manichaeans, via the country of Kang (a Central Asian polity near Samarkand). The 4th-century date, according to the Cihai encyclopedia, is due to a reference to Fan Ning (範寧/范宁), an astrologer of the Jin Dynasty. The renewed adoption from Manichaeans in the 8th century (Tang Dynasty) is documented with the writings of the Chinese Buddhist monk Yi Jing and the Ceylonese Buddhist monk Bu Kong.

The Chinese transliteration of the planetary system was soon brought to Japan by the Japanese monk Kobo Daishi; surviving diaries of the Japanese statesman Fujiwara Michinaga show the seven day system in use in Heian Period Japan as early as 1007. In Japan, the seven day system was kept in use (for astrological purposes) until its promotion to a full-fledged (Western-style) calendrical basis during the Meiji era. In China, with the founding of the Republic of China in 1911, Monday through Saturday in China are now named after the luminaries implicitly with the numbers.

Under the system of the Seven Luminaries, the presiding planet for Thursday is Jupiter, which is associated with none other than "wood" 木.  In Japanese this day is designated as Mokuyōbi 木曜日 ("wood luminary day"), in Korean it is called Mogyoil 목요일 木曜日, in Chinese that would be Mùyàorì 木曜日 (now replaced by Xīngqísì 星期四 [lit., "star / planet / heavenly body period four"]), in Tibetan it is Gza' phur bu  གཟའ་ཕུར་བུ། ("Jupiter day"), and in Mongolian this day is modoŋ ödör модон өдөр ("wood day").

So there's a lot more than meets the eye in the hybrid script design of that clever sign for the 木hursday restaurant in East Village.


  1. Ben Zimmer said,

    September 1, 2016 @ 8:11 pm

    Reminiscent of the "creeping kanji" in the sign for Pittsburgh's "Social 七 House," though in this case the kanji isn't as distracting for those who don't know Japanese.

  2. Rodger C said,

    September 2, 2016 @ 6:37 am

    It's been a long time since I've seen the word "Ceylonese." Another case where WiPe's editors need to look more closely at their public-domain sources.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    September 2, 2016 @ 6:52 am

    In the last paragraph of "Turkish written with Latin letters half a millennium ago" (8/29/16), I mentioned that both Old Uyghur and modern Uyghur had been written in a withering variety of scripts. Now Peter Zieme informs me that some Old Uigurs were fond of mixing scripts in the same text, the nicest example of which can be seen in this old paper of his.

  4. January First-of-May said,

    September 2, 2016 @ 8:18 am

    It's been a long time since I've seen the word "Ceylonese." Another case where WiPe's editors need to look more closely at their public-domain sources.

    Russian Wikipedia has a lot of articles with large fragments of text from the encyclopedia of Brockhaus and Efron (1890-1907).
    The orthography is usually modernized, but everything else is left as such (old measurement units, old names for nations and national subdivisions, etcetera).

    That said, while I can't see the problem with "Ceylonese" when not referring to the modern-day country of Sri Lanka, the person in question only has the slightest connection with said island, having visited it among many other places (at least, as far as I could understand from the linked Wikipedia article).
    At the time, Sri Lanka would have been ruled by the Anuradhapura kingdom (I'm not sure which monarch specifically, because apparently the chronology is unreliable for this period).

  5. cameron said,

    September 2, 2016 @ 8:48 am

    My first guess was that this was a Japanese place, because that area around E 9th is home to a cluster of Japanese restaurants, bars, and other businesses. Thursday Kitchen, as it is called, is apparently an Asian fusion place with a Korean base. Their website is here: http://inthursdaykitchen.com/

  6. Victor Mair said,

    September 2, 2016 @ 9:13 am

    From Cecilia Segawa Seigle:

    From the picture of the restaurant, it indeed looks like a Japanese or Korean establishment, though I can't see too well. The hachimaki (鉢巻head band) indicates they must be.

    But what I wonder is why they named the restaurant 木hursday. It could easily have been 金riday, 土aturday、水ednesday、火uesday、日unday, just as well, although 木hursday might have been more pleasing esthetically and the association of T and 木 are closer.

    Or, did Thursday have any special meaning for them? Or did their last name start with 木, like 木村、木山、木本、木下、木原、木内、木本、木戸、etc. etec. There are about 134 names that start with 木!!

  7. leoboiko said,

    September 2, 2016 @ 9:30 am

    Clearly they're fans of Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday. This is The Restaurant That Is Tursday.

  8. EndlessWaves said,

    September 2, 2016 @ 10:44 am

    I have no background in Japanese and my first thought when I saw the picture was Scandinavian/Norse. That h is in a style often used for norse fonts and the d seems to be evoking the thorn character (þ).

    That would also tie in with the name of Thor's day.

    So is the tree character something to do with Yggdrasil, the norse world tree? But that is an Ash tree so not particularly restaurant-ish and a quick search suggests there aren't any well known connections between it and thor or thursday.

    Maybe it's because they're serving East Asian/Scandinavian fusion?

  9. L said,

    September 2, 2016 @ 1:22 pm

    "But what I wonder is why they named the restaurant 木hursday. It could easily have been 金riday, 土aturday、水ednesday、火uesday、日unday, just as well, although 木hursday might have been more pleasing esthetically and the association of T and 木 are closer."

    Well, I think you found the answer. You could probably torture a 水 to make it look like a W, and you could use light and heavy lines to make a 日 look like a little like an S, but T and 木 are so similar that it's the obvious favorite of the seven, at least as far as I can tell.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    September 2, 2016 @ 2:28 pm

    From Sasha Vovin:

    Japanese were mixing Classical Chinese with the Sino-Xenic phonographic script as early as the end of the 5th c, and so did Koreans. Manchus were fond of mixing not only the scripts, but also languages within the same text.

  11. Michael Watts said,

    September 2, 2016 @ 8:43 pm

    now replaced by Xīngqísì 星期四 [lit., "star / planet / heavenly body period four"]

    This might be better rendered "week four"; 星期 "week" is lexicalized rather than compositional.

  12. Ray said,

    September 2, 2016 @ 9:12 pm

    "…and 木hursday's child has far to go…"

    in the restaurant world, thursdays are "deal" nights, that last day before the weekend's refreshed bounty and main attractions. it's also the last day to order fish for the fri-sat-sun weekend, which is why anthony bourdain once said that you should never order fish on a monday, because it's fish that was ordered on a thursday. so maybe, all in all, "木hursday" and its menu is about signalling that they're making the best of things, making do, affordably, and using whatever scrappy culinary techniques they can to make it work. (ie, "leftover night — with an asian flair")

    from their website: "Thursday Kitchen is inspired from international food especially Japanese, Chinese, French and New York style base on Korean. It is really hard to define what kind of cuisine Thursday Kitchen is because our culture is limitless and we decided to call it 'New Korean'."

    sounds about right.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    September 2, 2016 @ 10:28 pm

    now replaced by Xīngqísì 星期四 [lit., "star / planet / heavenly body period four"

    N.B. "lit.", which is there — character by character — for people who don't know Chinese.

    Of course, Xīngqísì 星期四 means "the fourth day of the week", i.e., "Thursday".

  14. Michael Watts said,

    September 3, 2016 @ 2:27 am

    There's no reason a "literal" gloss must trace everything back as far as it's possible to go. For example, I'd probably gloss "amabo te si haec meo patri dederis" as "please give these to my father [literally "I will love you if you will have given these things to my father"]", and not bother to mention the conjectured etymology of the Latin verb amo as coming from a PIE root for mother or aunt (literally "I will feel toward you as a mother does, if you will have given these things to my father"?).

    Even people who don't know Chinese might be interested to know that the word for "thursday" is constructed from the word for "week" (regardless of which word for "week" — any of 星期 xingqi, 礼拜 libai, or 周 zhou might be used). The gloss "star period" for 星期, like the gloss "worship" for 礼拜 and the gloss "cycle" for 周, is a fact about the etymology of "week" in Chinese, but not a fact about the etymology of "thursday".

  15. Michael Watts said,

    September 3, 2016 @ 2:41 am

    You've written before about words that, as best we can tell, have always been two syllables, such as 凤凰 and 蝴蝶. How would the concept of a "lit." gloss apply to those? What about words using the semantically empty suffix 子, like 兔子, 轮子, 桃子, etc?

  16. Victor Mair said,

    September 3, 2016 @ 8:40 am

    I write for all readers of Language Log, not just for the small handful of those who know Chinese to varying degrees. Characters without transcriptions and glosses mean nothing to the vast majority of Language Log readers. And I'm not interested in having a private conversation on a public forum.

  17. GH said,

    September 3, 2016 @ 2:08 pm

    OK, so if I follow correctly…

    The Greeks originally named the days of the week after the sun, moon, and planets (i.e. "luminaries") according to an astrological principle. The fact that each of these astronomical objects corresponded to a god or goddess in their mythology was perhaps incidental.

    When the Germanic tribes took over the system (via the Romans), however, they renamed most of the days after the closest corresponding gods in their own pantheon, thereby breaking the link with astronomy/astrology: Thor is a thunder god like Zeus/Jupiter, but has no particular association with the planet Jupiter. I haven't been able to find out what names the planets had among the Germanic peoples before they adopted the Roman ones, but see here. Quite possibly their indigenous names for the planets were not of a kind that made it natural to name the days after them – e.g. Venus may have been known only as the Morning Star/Evening Star – or perhaps they just didn't appreciate or care about the astrology.

    As the Greek system spread into Asia, on the other hand, they apparently stuck with the astronomical/astrological link, rather than try to match the deities (presumably due to the nature of the texts through which the system was transmitted). Does Jupiter (木) carry any particular mythological associations in Japan, as in the Greco-Roman tradition? And if they had instead named the day after the closest thing to the god Jupiter, like those who coined "Thursday", what would that be?

  18. Rodger C said,

    September 3, 2016 @ 6:43 pm

    @GH: Actually it's the Babylonian system, brought back to Greece by Alexander (I think).

  19. Arun Joglekar said,

    September 4, 2016 @ 2:16 am

    Does 'planet' (πλανήτης) mean luminary? I thought it meant moving people/objects – the ones who changed their positions.

  20. GH said,

    September 4, 2016 @ 7:32 am

    @Rodger C:

    From what I read, the seven-day week is Babylonian or older, and Hellenistic astrology is based to a large extent on Babylonian thought. However, the Babylonians didn't fully develop the system of planetary hours into a fixed repeating cycle, and certainly the idea of naming the days by the celestial object that "rules" the first hour of that day must be a Hellenistic innovation. (See here.)

    @Arun Joglekar:

    My parenthetical was not meant etymologically, but rather just to reiterate that the visible planets in the sky + sun and moon (which the Greeks included among the planets but aren't covered by the modern understanding of the word) are what is referred to in East Asia as the Seven Luminaries. They mean the same thing in this context, though the terms have different roots.

    As quoted in the post: "the Seven Luminaries" (七曜 qī yào), which consists of the Sun, Moon and the five planets visible to the naked eye."

  21. leoboiko said,

    September 5, 2016 @ 12:34 pm


    Does Jupiter (木) carry any particular mythological associations in Japan, as in the Greco-Roman tradition?

    Not as far as I know. However, the five visible planets (and, consequently, five of the weekdays) are named for the five elements of traditional Sinitic cosmology: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn are the Water Star, Metal Star, Fire Star, Wood Star and Ground Star, respectively.

    And if they had instead named the day after the closest thing to the god Jupiter, like those who coined "Thursday", what would that be?

    I don't think Thor and Jupiter are very comparable (ice-giant-killing, famously not-very-smart battle-god ≠ all-wise Father-King-Judge PIE archetype). The sole point in common is the thunder attribute. Keeping the same cavalier attitude, the first Japanese thunder-god that comes to mind is Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto. So, in old-style agglutinative Japanese, you could have perhaps *Takemikazuchi-no-Hi, the Day of ~ (perhaps with some o- or mi- honorifics thrown in for good measure).

    Alternatively, one could take advantage of the fact that "thunder" in Japanese is literally "the divine shout/voice", kami-nari, and simply say Day of Thunder Kaminari-no-Hi. Or use its personification, Raijin or Raiden-sama (Master Thunder), a fearsome and iconic folk spirit.

  22. GH said,

    September 5, 2016 @ 2:58 pm

    Thanks. "Takemikazuchi-no-Hi" would be a bit of a mouthful!

    The pagans were rather liberal in their syncretism: some of the correspondences they drew between the Greco-Roman and Egyptian gods were much more of a stretch than Jupiter-Thor. That said, we might be a bit biased by knowing the gods mainly as literary characters, with much less understanding of their cultic role – which to their believers was probably the more important part!

    I wonder why, out of all the days, the Germanic peoples failed to translate "Saturday". The most obvious candidate to match with Saturn would seem to be Yngvi/Frey (god of peace, plenty and fertility, at least in some traditions). Perhaps a "Freyday" would be too easily confused with Friday, but I don't know what the vowel qualities were back then, or whether an "Ingwiday" would have been a possible option, so I have no idea whether it would have been an issue in practice. (And the naming of Friday in various Germanic languages is itself somewhat puzzling.)

  23. leoboiko said,

    September 5, 2016 @ 3:35 pm

    It would be a long name, yes; but then again Old Japanese had a fairly "agglutinative" feel; this is the mythology whose deities have such names as Ko-no-hana-no-saku-ya-hime ("Tree Flower Blossoming O! Princess"); Ama-terasu-ō-mi-kami ("Heaven-Illuminating Great August Goddess", i.e. the Sun); Ame-no-hi-bara-ō-shina-domi-no-kami ("Heaven-ly Sun-Gut Great Domi Goddess") ; or Ama-tsu-hiko-hiko-nagisa-take-u-gaya-fuki-aezu-no-mi-koto (“Heaven-ly Lad, Lad [of] Beach Valiant , Cormorant[-feather] Thatch, Incomplete Thatch August Lord") (it makes more sense in context) (long story) (glosses due to Philipi's Kojiki; I'm using Modern Japanese pronunciations for simplicity).

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