12 March 2011

Today is Marchday, March the Marchth

Here's something I found highly diverting this week. The dashboard of my car (an Alfa Romeo in early middle age, about which more anon) features a small matrix display that shows the current date and outside temperature, along with occasional warnings such as there being a risk of ice on the road, or that the passenger door is open, or that the electrical system has self-immolated. It is possible to change the language in which these messages are displayed, and me being me I rarely leave it on English: from the limited options of major Western-European languages (no Norwegian – grrr; no Breton – sadly; no Jameld – unsurprisingly) I tend to vacillate between Italiano and Nederlands. During this cold winter, my long-suffering wife has got used to the tell-tale warning bong as the temperature dips below 4 °C, followed by the message "Possibile ghiaccio su strada".

On Monday, with the system operating in Dutch, the display showed "MAA 7 MAA" (MAAndag 7 MAArt), which I thought was amusing. And then, having switched into Italian, the following day it read "MAR 8 MAR" (MARtedì 8 MARzo). It would have said the same in French or Spanish, of course (although not in Portuguese).

(The fun is endless, although I'm going to have to wait a few years before I get to see "WOE 15 MEI" in Dutch. No? Please yourself...)

Of course, the Italian/French/Spanish repetition of "MAR" is because (I think) Mars is the only god, planet or Caesar who managed to get both a day and a month named after him. (In Germanic languages, his Norse equivalent Týr or Tiw is honoured in the name of the day.) The Dutch "MAA ... MAA" is a coincidence, of course.

This all got me thinking about how the dates would be displayed in this format in various other languages, which was a great way of wasting several hours.