or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

To Whit

Today at work I was framing a poster, a photograph of a beautiful place called Whitsunday Isle in Australia, and at some point or another it occurred to me that I didn't know where the "whit-" in "Whitsunday" came from.

I thought about it on and off throughout the afternoon, mostly off, because I was very busy, but I couldn't make any sense out of it. I bet you can, though! The correct answer did eventually occur to me, and I (figuratively) smacked myself on the forehead, because it's so obvious. But more on that in a minute.

You may have heard the term "Whitsunday" before, or possibly "Whitsuntide", which is interesting in itself for another reason. The "-tide" part of the word is etymologically related to the tide which is the rise and fall of the oceans, but it doesn't mean the same thing; instead, it means a period of time, just about any period of time, really, from a night ("eventide") to a whole season ("wintertide"). "Whitsuntide" is either the week or the three-day period which begins with Whitsunday (I told you it was vague) , and Whitsunday is the seventh Sunday after Easter. I know; how specific!

The "whit-" of Whitsunday is in fact, as you probably have guessed if you didn't already know, a contraction of the word "white", and this is probably because of the white robes that the freshly baptized would wear on that day.

(I got that lovely picture above from somebody's Picasa album; it's Whitsunday Beach, and if the owner recognizes it and wants me to take it down, I will of course comply.)


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