The meaning of August

etymology linguistics Aug 11, 2022
meaning of august

Over 2000 years ago the Romans had their own calendar (based on the preceeding Greek calendar) which was made up of 12 months. Our calendar today – the Gregorian calendar – is still based on this Roman calendar.

However, the Romans only named 10 of the months: Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December. The last six names were taken from the words for five, six, seven, eight, nine, and ten – so Sextilis meaning sixth – was originally the name for August.

However, the Romans later added two more named months – January and February – into their calendar to account for the c.50 days of winter they had not originally bothered with naming as this was when the government & military were having some down time!

So August had now become the eighth month, and when Caesar Augustus defeated Marc Antony and Cleopatra, and became emperor of Rome, the Roman Senate decided that he should have a month named after him. Sextilis became "August".

👉 In the majority of European languages the word for August has directly derived from the Roman word:

French: août

German: August

Icelandic: ágúst

Italian: agosto

Norwegian: august

Spanish: agosto

Welsh: Awst

There are also a couple of other etymologies for August:

👉 Slavic

Polish: sierpień

Ukrainian: sérpen

Both are derived from a Slavic word for a sickle, which refers to period of harvesting the crops. In Slavic regions there is the Dożynki which is a Slavic harvest festival. This year it will be celebrated on Sunday 28th August.

Similarly, in Finnish August is 'elokuu' which means crop month.


👉 Gaelic

Irish: Lúnasa

Scottish Gaelic: an Lùnasdal

Both are named after Lugh, an important god in Irish mythology (not related to the word lune or lunar meaning moon!) Lugh is also linked with a harvest festival – that of Lughnasadh (Lúnasa in Modern Irish – also the name for August!), which again marks the beginning of the harvest season. 


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