Hodie is a Latin adverb meaning "today" or "at the present time". I am rather curious as to how this word developed.

Was it originally a compound of hōc and diē, which would be translated as "on this day"? That's the only theory I have so far; are there perhaps any definitive pieces of evidence on this topic?


As is often the case with things that seem obvious, the explanation of hodiē as a contraction of hōc + diē is actually problematic and hotly contested. One theory is that it is from the bare stem *ho-. Another that is from the old abl. sing. *hōd *diēd (with secondary shift of -ōdd- to -od-). The former seems to me more straightforward.

PS. Lewis and Short (1879) is hardly the last word on Latin etymology.

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    One fragment from Varro (yes, not to be wholly trusted for his etymological scholarship) has "cum hodie dicimus, nihil aliud quam hoc die intelligitur." Given that this is the "obvious" etymology, could you explain why exactly this is considered problematic? – brianpck Feb 6 '17 at 14:58
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    @brianpck. It would involve the development of -ōcd- to -ŏd-. I do not think there is any parallel for this. – fdb Feb 6 '17 at 16:20
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    Pg. 23 of this article argues for this etymology. Also: how does this explain the parallel terms pridie and postridie? – brianpck Feb 6 '17 at 16:54
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    @Alex B.I also wonder why it was deleted. Never mind 'hotly', why on Earth should the origin of hodie be contested at all? The simple explanation can be applied not only in Latin (and English) but in the Russian сегодня, German heute, and, no doubt, in others too. – Tom Cotton Feb 6 '17 at 17:19
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    @TomCotton. Nobody is denying that "hodie" means "this day". The issue is only the case form (nominative, ablative, locative, bare root?) of the first component, and the mysterious disappearance of any consonants at the end of the first component. – fdb Feb 6 '17 at 19:43

As the other answer was deleted, I'll post the traditional explanation here.

The simplest explanation is exactly as you suggested: hōc "this" + diē "day", in the ablative of time-when. This is what my old Latin textbook said, as well as Lewis and Short's dictionary:

hŏdĭē, adv. contr. from hoc die, on this day

Very similar derivations have happened in other languages:

  • English "today" < Old English "at" + "day"
  • German heute "today" < Old High German *hiu tagu "this day" (cf Tag)
  • Dutch vandaag "today" < van "of" + daag "day"
  • Attic Greek τήμερον "today" < *kyā- "this" (possibly the root of Latin cis) + ἡμέρα "day"

And Latin has similar words:

  • prīdiē "on the day before" < Old Latin pri "before" (root of prior) + diē
  • postrīdiē "on the day after" < posterō + diē

In comments on the other answer, brianpck provided some additional evidence. A fragment of Varro (number 11 here) mentions:

...et cum hodie dicimus, nihil aliud quam hoc die intelligitur.

(My translation:)

...and when we say "today", no other meaning except "on this day" is understood.

For a more modern and scholarly source, who probably did significantly more research than Varro, this article argues for the same etymology.

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    1907 is hardly "modern". Anyway, as I said above: Nobody is denying that "hodie" means "this day". The issue is only the case form (nominative, ablative, locative, bare root?) of the first component, and the mysterious disappearance of any consonants at the end of the first component. – fdb Feb 6 '17 at 19:45
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    Ancient etymologies like Varro's aren't evidence for anything except ancient beliefs about etymology (which are no more reliable than their beliefs about any other science). – TKR Feb 6 '17 at 22:22
  • I don't disagree; folk etymology is amusing but fairly useless. Just wanted to bring up the other common explanation with what evidence I've seen for it, which happens to not be very much: I have no good explanation for od < ōcd either. (And it's significantly less clear than the derivation of any of those other words.) – Draconis Feb 6 '17 at 22:41

That's exactly right (though as a contraction), as a look at Lewis & Short shows:

hŏdĭē , adv. contr. from hoc die, on this day,

The English today actually developed in the same way:

today (adv.) Old English todæge, to dæge "on (this) day," from to "at, on" + dæge, dative of dæg "day."

  1. Universal human laziness would have favored dropping the voiceless velar before the voiced dental. Under rapid speech, I don't think the /k/ sound would survive long. You don't always need a universal sound change rule for every change in a language. Some changes are bound to be random or unique. That's the second law of thermodynamics (which takes precedence over the rules of linguistics).
  2. The tongue's location in the mouth for a dental sound is similar to where It is when /i/ or /e/ are articulated. Palletization may already have been underway in some dialects by the time "hoc" plus "die" became a compound word. It's not far-fetched to think that voiceless /k/ became voiced hard /g/ next to the voiced /d/, becoming palletized and then lost entirely in short order.
  3. /K/ +/D/ is rare or impossible inside words in Latin, based on my limited experience. I wonder if, once it became a compound word, that this unusual combination of sounds ended up being dropped. If retained, it would be a marker of the border between two separate "words" rather than a possible internal consonant cluster of a proper Latin word. That would have been important to the native Latin listener. To conform with the rules governing consonant clusters within Latin words, the /k/ or the /d/ would have to be lost. Because "Day" is the dominant word-meaning unit, the /k/ sound of the subordinate "this" would have to be discarded by native speakers.
  4. Perhaps it was a borrowing from a nearby But distinct latinate language in the early years of Rome. Perhaps that related language did have a rule for the loss of a voiceless velar next to a voiced dental. Since it didn't violate sound rules for consonant clusters within Latin words, it was quickly adopted.
  5. Linguistics hasn't obviously embraced Occam's razor, like other sciences have with great success. Just because you don't have a "rule" for a disappearing C next to a D, doesn't mean the simplest solution doesn't carry. The alternative solutions put forth seem somewhat contrived and unconvincing, therefore the default "lay explanation" is good enough until linguistics experts come up with something a little more convincing. Since "HOC +DIE" is just a hypothesis, it shouldn't rile anybody up. It makes sense to me. Call it in "operating hypothesis" until some linguistics genius comes up with an alternative theory that makes as much sense.
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    Note that the problem is not just the loss of the [k], but the short vowel in the first syllable. As you say, [kd] is an uncomfortable cluster for Latin, but it's hard to see why its simplification would cause the vowel to shorten. – TKR Apr 19 at 4:04
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    "That's the second law of thermodynamics (which takes precedence over the rules of linguistics)." — honestly not trying to be mean, but this is one of the most amusing things I've read on this website xD In fact, I'm currently reading an introduction to a book that discusses how Linguistics has been too keen on swinging "Ockham's razor with Aristotle's blade". In this case it's the other way around. If there's no rule, postulating one to explain one single occurrence is violating the parsimony principle. An exception like this will never be accepted as a satisfactory explanation in linguistics – Unbrutal_Russian Apr 19 at 16:01
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    Also, it's spelled "palatalisation": this process changes /k/ into /ch/ (Kirche = Church) and isn't relevant in this case. More importantly, hōc is secondarily made up of hō(d) + ce, and so there's no need to explain away the absense of /k~g/ - just don't postulate the ce in the first place. Parsimony again. The deletion of /d/ in Ablatives is already a regular process. The only thing that actually needs explaining here is the short /o/. – Unbrutal_Russian Apr 19 at 16:06
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    'Assuming laziness' is anti-scientific, it's a magic wand you wave at something you can't explain to make it disappear. If laziness is universal and vowel shortening is exceptional, then you have a problem - another is defining laziness. The difference between too often and not often enough is significant if you know ~90% of what the people in question know - an outsider cannot judge about that. The way randomness disappears as you learn more about language is known as Dunning-Kruger. One or ten people learning a vowel as short happens. An entire city - there's nothing random about that. – Unbrutal_Russian Apr 19 at 23:58
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    @BenKovitz No, it isn't physics envy. It really is the case that most sound change is regular; if we lived in a world in which it was random, historical linguistics wouldn't be possible in the first place. – TKR Apr 20 at 4:00

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