The meaning of May!

etymology languages linguistics May 04, 2022
May in different languages

Welcome to May – hopefully it's the start of the summer here in the UK! 🤞

Have you noticed that the word for May is very similar in many European languages? And even where the words for May differ, their etymology has some underlying connections.

This is the word for May in different European languages:
English – May
Italian – Maggio
French – Mai
Spanish – Mayo
Portuguese – Maio
Maltese – Mejju
German – Mai
Swedish – Maj

In many of these Germanic & Romance languages the word for May has derived directly from the 'Maia' – the word for the Roman goddess of growth, to mark the start of the new season, of new growth, blooming flowers and growing crops.

Going back a little further, we can also see connections lie in the Proto-Indo-European *magya which again has a similar meaning: "she who is great".

The words for May from other language families also connect to new season of growth, such as:
Belarussian – травень (travien’)
Ukrainian – травень (traven’)
which both derive from the word "trava" in the Slavic family of languages meaning 'grass'.

Here are some other examples of how the word for May has derived from nature or agriculture in different regions/ countries:

Lithuanian – gegužė (meaning cuckoo bird, where they are more likely to break into song in May!)
Finnish – toukokuu (meaning 'sowing month' traditionally the time when the Finnish sow their seed for future crops... later than other European countries as they are further north.)
Irish – Bealtaine which connects to the Gaelic seasonal Celts Beltane festival that marks the beginning of summer.

So, here's to May and – hopefully – some warmer days ahead!

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