Monday’s Child is Fair of Face

Illustration by Blanche Fisher Wright

  • As of today, Sept. 21 2013 and the first full day of autumn, this post has been viewed over 50,000 times. :-) Also, if you enjoy this post, you might also like the discussion of Mother Goose’s: I had a little nut tree…

I just picked up a used book A Child’s Anthology of Poetry, which I’ll talk more about in a later post. Suffice it to say, I like it very much.

After writing analyses of serious poems by serious poets, I wanted to try something different: a well-known nursery rhyme by Mother Goose, which isn’t to say that a nursery rhyme can’t be taken seriously. One of the most interesting facets to Mother Goose’ nursery rhymes is how amazingly interesting they really are! I suspect that most of us, when we first read them, think of them as nothing more than cute doggerel. (Modern poets have tried to write nursery rhymes with the flavor of the originals but, at least for me, there’s always the feeling that they’ve been contrived.) In fact, almost every one of Mother Goose’s rhymes has a rich history behind it. To demonstrate, I’ve picked out Monday’s Child. As of this sentence, I don’t know anything more about the poem than you do (and probably less). To me, it’s just a cute rhyme. But let’s see what we turn up.

Here’s the rhyme. Most of you know it well.

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living,
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

So, being methodical as ever, let’s go from the most to the least. The most being this: Who was “Mother Goose”? Seems that scholars are mostly in agreement: She’s a mythical personage whose name most probably derived from the title of Charles Perrault’s collection of fairy tales, “Contes de ma mère l’oye” or “Tales of Mother Goose”. The collection was published in 1697. Britannica states that “Mother Goose” is derived from a French expression that roughly translates as “old wives’ tales” ["Mother Goose." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Deluxe Edition.  Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2010].

Both Britannica and Wikipedia mention the claims made for the true life Bostonian Elizabeth Goose. The claim that Elizabeth Goose was the origination of Mother Goose, though charming, is flatly and sadly dismissed by Britannica.

The persistent legend that Mother Goose was an actual Boston woman, Elizabeth Goose (Vergoose, or Vertigoose), whose grave in Boston’s Old Granary Burying Ground is still a tourist attraction, is false. No evidence of the book of rhymes she supposedly wrote in 1719 has ever been found. The first U.S. edition of Mother Goose rhymes was a reprint of the Newbery edition published by Isaiah Thomas in 1785. [Ibid]

If you’re curious to read more about this “persistent” urban myth, Wikipedia offers a bit more information.

The Poem

The poem, like many if not most nursery rhymes, is accentual. A poem written in meter, like Iambic Pentameter, would be called an accentual syllabic poem. This means that the accents (stressed syllables) are the same (or mostly) in each line and that the number of syllables in each line are the same (or mostly). In the case of Iambic Pentameter, there are mostly 10 syllables per line and of those 10 syllables 5 are almost always accented.

  • What does “fair of face mean“? I’ve seen this query several times in my dashboard. Seems like this is a good place to answer the question. Fair has the meaning: beautiful, but also auspicious and fortunate. So, Monday’s child, in a fortune-telling sense, means that Monday’s child is not only beautiful, but promises good things and a fortunate life.

In accentual poetry, the poet is only counting the number of accents per line, not syllables but only stressed syllables. So, Mother Goose’s little ditty would look like this:

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living,
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

Four stressed syllables per line. What does this tell us?  Britannica tells us the following:

The oldest extant copy dates from 1791, but it is thought that an edition appeared, or was planned, as early as 1765, and it is likely that it was edited by Oliver Goldsmith, who may also have composed some of the verses. [Ibid]

First, we know that accentual/syllabic meter (Iambic Pentameter for example) was only firmly established between the 1570′s and 1590′s. Chaucer had written Iambic Pentameter (not blank verse) but his innovations were largely forgotten until the Elizabethan era rediscovered the meter. We also have reason to believe that many of the poems in Mother Goose were probably poems passed from generation to generation by memory. One of the poems, I had a little nut tree, is thought to stem from the visit of Katherine of Aragon to England in 1506 – Katherine was betrothed to Prince Arthur and later married King Henry VIII when Prince Arthur  died.

So, given those two pieces of information, it makes sense that these nursery rhymes would be largely accentual. They reflect an earlier poetic tradition dating as far back, possibly, as Anglo-Saxon song and language. These nursery rhymes are old poems and even if we grant that Goldsmith may have penned some of the verses, he seems to have imitated the accentual language of the originals.

The poem Monday’s Child, interestingly, was not in the original edition but was first recorded in 1838, in A. E. Bray’s Traditions of Devonshire (Volume II, pp.287-288). This doesn’t mean that Monday’s child is a contrivance of 1838. As we’ll find out, the tradition (from which this proverbial poem springs) can be dated back, at least, to the 1570′s.

Fortune Tellers

If the tradition of this poem can be dated back to the 1570′s, then it surely predates the 1570′s. And what was that tradition? Fortune telling. I’ve read some commentary on this poem portraying it as no more than a mnemonic aid to help children remember the days of the week, but I think the poem is much more interesting than that. Turns out, the poem springs from a tradition of fortune telling proverbs. Human beings have always wanted a way to foresee future events and we’ve always been suckers for predictions. In his book, Oral and literate culture in England, 1500-1700, author Adam Fox provides us the following:

The Elizabethan writer Thomas Nashe remembered how, as a boy growing up at Lowestoft, Suffolk, in the 1570s, he had been spellbound by the faiths and fables which the old women had solemnly handed down around the home fire.

I haue heard aged mumping beldams as they stay warming their knees ouer a coale scratch ouer the argument verie curiously, and they would bid yong folks beware on what day they par’d their nayles, tell what luck euerie one should haue by the day of the weeke he was borne on; show how many yeares a man should liue by the number wrinkles on his forhead, and stand descanting not a litle of the difference in fortune when they are turned vpward, and when they are bent downward; him that had a wart on his chin, they would confidently assertaine he should haue no need anie of kin: marry, they would likewise distinguish betweene the standing of the wart on the right side and on the left. When I was a little childe, I was a great auditor of theirs, and had all their witchcrafts at my fingers endes, as perfit as good morrow and good euen. (*)

So it was, according to the old wive’s catechism, that Friday was the unluckiest day. ‘Now Friday came, your old wives say, of all the week’s unluckiest day.’ Despite this, however, every milkmaid knew that a dream on Friday night was sure to come true. [Page 182]

(*) John Melton, Astrologaster, or, The Figure-Caster (London, 1620), 53, and see 45-7, 67,69,71; Thomas Nashe, The Terrors of the Night (1594), in The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. McKerrow and Wilson, i. 369.

Is that a smoking gun or what? There’s ample reason to believe that Monday’s Child is much older than it’s first printed appearance in 1838. And what’s also worth noting is Nashe’s emphasis on old women ( the old wife or Mother Goose as the French might have called her). Women were the culture’s poetic memory and story tellers. In fact, there seems to have been a cottage industry in fortune telling by rhyme. Monday’s Child has some siblings.

Sunday’s child is full of grace
Monday’s child is full in the face
Tuesday’s child is solemn and sad
Wednesday’s child is merry and glad
Thursday’s child is inclined and thieving
Friday’s child is free in giving
Saturday’s child works hard for a living

Born on Monday, fair of face;
Born on Tuesday, full of grace;
Born on Wednesday, merry and glad;
Born on Thursday, wise and sad;
Born on Friday, Godly given;
Born on Saturday, earn a good living;
Born on Sunday, blithe and gay

Sunday’s child is full of grace,
Monday’s child is fair of face;
Tuesday’s child loves to race,
Wednesday’s child is kind of heart;
Thursday’s child is very smart,
Friday’s child will never part;
Saturday’s child is good of heart. [Page 105]

In the book, Baby Lore: Superstitions and Old Wives Tales from the World Over Related to Pregnancy, Birth and Babycare, the author Rosalind Franklin ascribes these variants, respectively, to the West Country of the UK, to Scotland and to the United States. If there was one thing that characterized the early United States it was the sense of optimism and hope typified by its immigrants. I don’t think it’s random that the variant found in the US is the most optimistic and hopeful (although the Scottish variant isn’t far behind  and many American immigrants were Scottish). The most pessimistic of the variants belong to the UK.

But there are more rhymes of the fortune telling kind. G.F. Northall, author of English folk-rhymes; a collection of traditional verses relating to places and persons, customs, superstitions, etc (evidently, collectors of really, really short poems like really, really long titles) found two more variants:

Born of a Monday,
·Fair in face;
Born on a Tuesday,
·Full of God’s grace;
Born of a Wednesday,
·Merry and glad;
Born of a Thursday,
·Sour and sad;
Born of a Friday,
·Godly given;
Born of a Saturday,
·Work for your living;
Born of a Sunday.
·Never shall we want;
·So there ends the week,
·And there’s an end on’t.

Born of a Monday,
·Fair in face;
Born on a Tuesday,
·Full of God’s grace;
Born on Wednesday,
·Sour and sad;
Born on Thursday,
·Merry and glad;
Born on a Friday,
·Worthily given;
Born on Saturday,
·Work hard for your living;
Born on Sunday,
·You will never know want. [Page 161]

But what if you need to know what day of the week to marry? In the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 25, we find the following:

Monday for health, Tuesday for wealth,
Wednesday the best day of all,
Thursday for losses, Friday for crosses,
Saturday no day at all.

Or, if you prefer:

Monday for wealth;
Tuesday for health;
Wednesday the best day of all;
Thursday for crosses;
Friday for losses;
Saturday no luck at all. [Page 160]

What’s the best day to sneeze?

Sneeze on a Monday, you sneeze for danger;
Sneeze on a Tuesday, you kiss a stranger;
Sneeze on a Wednesday, you receive a letter;
Sneeze on a Thursday, you’ll get something better;
Sneeze on a Friday, expect great sorrow;
Sneeze on a Saturday, meet a sweetheart to-morrow;
Sneeze on a Sunday, your safety seek,
·The devil will chase you the whole of the week. [Page 167]

And remember Thomas Nashe? He wrote that the aged mumping beldam “would bid yong folks beware on what day they par’d their nayles”?

Cut your nails Monday, you cut them for news;
Cut them on Tuesday, a pair of new shoes;
Cut them on Wednesday, you cut them for health;
Cut them on Thursday, ’twill add to your wealth;
Cut them on Friday, you cut them for woe;
Cut them on Saturday, a journey you’ll go;
Cut them on Sunday, you cut them for evil,
·All the week long you’ll be ruled by the devil. [Page 167-168]

So, all this is to say the Monday’s Child springs from a rich tradition of prognosticating rhymes and proverbial lore. In fact, our language is full of them.

A red sky in the morning is the sailor’s warning.
A red sky at night is the sailor’s delight.

Or the way I heard the rhyme from my grandmother was:

Red sky at morn, sailors forlorn.
Red sky at night, sailors delight.

Poems like these are a poetic undercurrent deeply imbedded in our language and culture but which, like the beldams, are all too frequently treated with condescension or overlooked. These women, mothers and grandmothers, entertained raised and taught the children of every generation and their music, poetry and stories are the great building blocks of all great literature. Theirs is a realm of literature which even self-professed feminists overlook in their efforts to recognize their more “literary” sisters. Shakespeare would be half the poet if it weren’t for his astounding knowledge and memory for proverbs. His poetry is literally stuffed with proverbial lore. Where Ben Jonson understood human nature through its humors, Shakespeare teased forth human nature from our proverbs.  I personally think it’s no mistake that one of the most realistic characters in all of his plays is the Nurse (the old beldam) in Romeo and Juliet. I don’t doubt that Shakespeare, in his youth, was just as enthralled by his own Mother Goose as Thomas Nashe, his contemporary. Whole books are dedicated to the proverbs he must have remembered from his childhood. Here is just one example:

The proverb fair and foolish, black and proud, long and lazy, little and loud, is at root, predictive, just like Monday’s Child. The proverb becomes a series of stinging jests in the dangerously scheming mind of Iago:

Iago I am bout it, but indeed my invention
Comes from my pate as birdlime does from frieze —
It plucks out brains and all. But my muse labours,
And thus is she delivered:
If she be fair and wise, fairness and wit,
The one’s for use, the other useth it.

Desdemona Well praised! How if she be black and witty?

Iago If she be black and thereto have a wit
She’ll find a white that shall her blackness fit.

Desdomona Worse and worse.

Emelia How if fair and foolish?

Iago She never yet was foolish that was fair,
For even her folly helped her to an heir.

Desdemona These are old fond paradoxes, to make fools laugh i’th’alehouse.
What miserable praise hast thou for her
That’s foul and foolish?

Iago There’s none so foul and foolish thereunto,
But does foul pranks which fair and wise ones do.

  • Note: Black, in Elizabethan times, didn’t have the same connotations as now. Although Iago makes a sexual dig at Desdemona saying that she will find a white (her womb) “that shall her blackness fit” (Othello’s penis), the appellation black generally referred to any European (including the English) who were darker complexioned, like the Italians and some of the Scottish, noted for their dark hair and eyes. The beautiful Emilia Lanier, for example, is sometimes identified as the “dark lady” in Shakespeare’s sonnets, claimed to be his lover, and was known to be a “dark” complexioned Italian. She was a musician, feminist and poet of considerable talent.

The proverb itself is a bit of fortune telling, much like Monday’s Child, and may have arisen from just such a rhyme (each of the lines in Monday’s Child is essentially a bit of proverbial lore).

At this point I can’t help inserting my usual jab at free verse. Ask yourself: Doesn’t a rhyming prophecy lend itself to the memory? I can think of nothing duller than a free verse prophecy. If nothing else, all of these poems bespeak the richness and joy taken in the sounds of our language. Modern poets lost much when they turned away from the music of language (one of which was book sales). Mother Goose’s nursery rhymes still vastly outsell any modern free verse poet (much to their annoyance whenever I mention it).

The Days of the Week

So what’s with the days of the week. Why is Monday characterized one way and Tuesday another?

Is there rhyme or reason?

The likeliest answer is the former. The characterizations probably reflect nothing more than the convenience of rhyme. What rhymes with face but grace? On the other hand, many of Mother Goose’s seemingly nonsensical and innocuous poems refer to real historical events (and frequently events that didn’t end well). Goosey Goosey Gander was a warning not to harbor Catholic Priests. During the Tudor era, when the Protestant religion was on the rise, harboring Catholic priests (who said they’re prayers in Latin) was punishable by death. Did that threat of execution extend to the children of the family? Possibly.

Goosey Goosey Gander is, in a certain way, similar to the political and propagandist poems children chant in North Korea and used to chant in the Soviet Union (though Goosey Goosey is not so ham-fisted or, at least, has been mellowed by age).

Rosalind Franklin’s book, Baby Lore, mentioned above, provides a nice summary of what varying cultures have associated with the days of the week. One is quickly reminded of astrology. No one, if read the personality traits of the different days, could consistently identify their own day. Descriptions frequently contradict each other and, if you’re a fortune teller, this is a good thing. This is what you want. Cover all your bases.

Suffice it to say, Sunday is the Sabbath day and no God-fearing Christian is going to associate negativity with the Sabbath day. The wise (Christian) child will always choose to be born on Sunday. Friday, on the other hand, was the day of Christ’s crucifixion. Children born on Friday are treated well, but  if you sneeze or cut your nails on Friday you will get what you deserve. Friday is for losses and crosses.

Here are some abridged (by me) Proverbs, Sentences and Proverbial Phrases from the book Proverbs, Sentences and Proverbial Phrases: From English Writings mainly Before 1500. These are the kinds of proverbs that would make their way into the rhymes and stories of beldams at whose feet sat the likes of Shakespeare and Nashe.

M618 Black Monday

1359 Gild of St. Nicholas in English gilds, ed. Toulmin Smith: The secunde (mornspeche) shal be onblake monunday. 1435 Chronicles of London Wherefore, unto this day yt ys callyd blak Monday, and wholle be longe tyme here affter. c1443 Chronicles of London Wherfore unto this day manye men callen it the blake Monday.

M619 A Monday’s handsel (gift) is great pain to children. c1475 Rawlinson A monday-ys hansell ys grete pane to chyddryn.

T280 Thursday and Sunday are cousins 1483 Caxton Golden Legende And therefore comenly the proverbe was, that the thursday and the sonday were cosyns. For thene that one was as solemne as that other.

F621 Now Friday shines and now it rains fast c1385 Chaucer: Right as the Friday, soothly for to telle, Now it shyneth, now it reyneth faste.

F622 Sled is the Friday all the week alike c1385 Chaucer: Sele is the Friday all the wowke ylike.

F623 To have fele (many) Fridays in one’s forehead c1475 Prohemy of a Marriage: In the forehed fele fridayes this no fage. (Fage, I think, means flattery.)

S907 He that hangs himself on Sunday shall still hang on Monday. 1546 Heywood: Well, he that hangth him selfe a sondaie (said hee) Shall hang still uncut downe a mondaie for mee.

Here, by contrast, are American proverbs from the Dictionary of American Proverbs.

Monday

  1. Monday is the key of the week.
  2. Monday religion is better than Sunday procession.
  3. So goes Monday, so goes all the week.

Friday

  1. Every day is not Friday; there is also Thursday.
  2. Friday and the week are seldom alike. (Notice how this proverb survived the centuries!)
  3. Friday begun, never done.
  4. a. Friday is the fairest or foulest day. b.Friday is the fairest or foulest day of the week.
  5. Never start anything important on Friday.
  6. a. Thank God it’s Friday. b. Friday night begins the weekend.

Saturday

  1. Saturday begun is never done.
  2. Saturday’s cleaning will not last through Sunday, but Sunday’s will last all week./Saturday’s flitting is short sitting.

Sunday

  1. Sunday oils the wheels of the week.

I find it curious that neither book of proverbs include the proverbial lore of Mother Goose’s Monday’s Child. I think it’s an oversight on the part of the authors, but typical.

Anyway, I could go into the meaning behind the names of the days of the week but that’s getting far afield and I doubt such knowledge was common among the generations who handed down Mother Goose. I doubt there was any thought put into the origin of the word Wednesday and that Wednesday’s child is “full of woe”. In another version of the poem, after all, Wednesday’s child is “merry and glad”.

But there you have it. You know as much as I do and, still, probably more.

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32 responses

  1. This article was nicely researched and interested me on all the various ways that the days of the week were used in poems for one cause or another.
    My original internet search was for the “Monday’s Child” poem and when I clicked on the link to this page of yours I was thrilled to find all the different forms of the poem.
    Thank you very much for all your research and for sharing it. I appreciate the hard work of another person when I become curious about something.

    • I do agree with Karla H. My friend and I were just discussing this poem and we couldn’t remember all of the verses. Upon returning home, I decided to check the internet to find the poem. To my surprise I came across this wonderfully researched version. Thank you very much for answering my question and so much more.

  2. What a wonderful post!
    I was researching the poem for a client’s art project and knew there was a nicer version (she writes, as a slightly bitter “Wednesday’s child”). Love all the detail and history you put into this, especially since I spent a good amount of my childhood in Suffolk, UK. I love the history of things, too and I highlight them on my interior design blog in my Design History series.

    I am bookmarking your blog! Feel free to stop by mine anytime and I will return the favor of a great story! Thanks again!!!
    http://caro-interiors.com

    • Hi Cathryn, I’ve just been checking out your blog. I’ll have more time this evening. Glad that you enjoyed the post on Monday’s Child. Turns out to be one of my most read posts. I’m tempted to write up another of the Mother Goose nursery rhymes. They all have fascinating histories. I’m stumped as to which one to write about.

  3. Thank you. I have searched extensively for information on the poem for a book I’m writing (tentatively called Wednesday’s Child in reference to the protagonist) and am delighted to find your exceptionally thoughtful essay.

    My research question regards a claim I’ve seen elsewhere that “woe” had a different meaning centuries ago, more akin to responsibility. See http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=145411 True? (I doubt it, but it would suit my story nicely. :) The only etymology I see says that woe is simply and anciently derived from the sound of exclamation of sorrow. Any thoughts? I’ve seen the claim also that whoever composed the rhyme may or may not known the origins of the days of the week (e.g., Wednesday = Odin). The Christian reading of Friday and Sunday seems quite reasonable as they would have been common knowledge – *except* that Friday and Wednesday got their respectively negative and positive predictions swapped at some point. (I should also mention that I’m not superstitious and suspect the arrangement of the rhymes had much more to do with convenience and memorability). I also have an alternate personal interpretation that “full of woe” could indicate someone not just full of woe but poised to mete it out, as Odin (“Wōden”) the serious god might have done. Author’s prerogative.

    – Andrew

    [May I offer a correction -- "(who said they’re prayers in Latin)"]

    • Hi Andrew,

      I looked up the word ‘woe’ in both the OED, my Anglo Saxon Dictionary, and The Shakespeare Lexicon. None of those sources confirmed the notion that ‘woe’ had a meaning akin to ‘responsibility’. The OE word is Wea (long e). So, I can’t say that Serenata, over at Google answers, is wrong, only that I can’t find any source to confirm what she says. As it is, my feeling is that the poem predates the 17th and 18th centuries (and so that even if Serenata were correct, the word would predate the “later” meaning of ‘responsibility’).

      The notion that the originator of the poem might have known the meaning of the days of the week must remain sheer speculation. I personally doubt it and would strongly bet against it, since such knowledge (if even known then) would have been absurdly unlikely. The first anglo-saxon texts only appeared “in print” around 1566, according to this, and I suspect that those able to read anglo-saxon were limited to the fingers of one or two hands at most. Would they have known the etymological origins of the word Wednesday? – on top of everything else? Possibly. But then one needs to speculate that one of these scholars was the author of the poem or that the author of the poem was privy to the etymological knowledge of these scholars. It all gets increasingly unlikely. Was the poem originally anglo-saxon? Also unlikely. The most likely explanation is that the original author, or those who passed on and probably changed the poem, liked the alliteration of Wednesday and woe – making the poem easier to remember.

  4. Pingback: I had a little nut tree… « PoemShape

  5. Katherine of Aragorn – Given the fact that she was Spanish, I would suggest Catherine as being more appropriate. Aragorn is clearly a misprint as, I suppose, is the result of sneezing on Wednesday – surely a letter, not a litter

    • :-) Thanks for catching “litter”, although (now that I reflect on it) I rather like the typo. The thought of a litter of kittens, after a good sneeze, strikes me as a better deal than “a letter”” (unless the latter letter refers to a litter)?

      As to Katherine or Catherine, I’ve seen it spelled both ways. Since I don’t claim any expertise in the matter, I’ll go with the consensus, whatever that is. In the meantime, I delved much deeper into A Little Nut Tree here. I decided the poem was likely not about Catherine, Katharine or Katherine.

      Edit: It occurs to that if I change letter to letter, I also have to change better, like so:

      Sneeze on a Wednesday, you receive a litter;
      Sneeze on a Thursday, you’ll get something bitter;

      And that, probably, is how different versions of a nursery rhyme are created.

  6. Its a very good site and sooo full of lots of information. I like the fact that so many different books are mentiond. People will have such a wide choice of books to choose from. 10 out of 10. Excellent. Thankyou. :-)

  7. Fascinating stuff here – I’ve always been interested in that children’s rhyme concerning days of the week/fortune. (And I’ve found that being a Tuesday child is a bit morbidly fitting my for sense of humor.)

  8. I came across this version of Monday’s child and when I shared it someone gave me a link to your website. Thought I would share this version with you. It’s from Games and Songs of American Children from 1890:
    Monday’s child is fair of face,
    Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
    Wednesday’s child is sour and sad,
    Thursday’s child is merry and glad,
    Friday’s child is full of sin,
    Saturday’s child is pure within,
    The child that is born on the Sabbath Day,
    To heaven its steps shall tend alway.

  9. This was an awesome article! I love how much information you included in it. As a fun coincidence for me, all three of my boys were born on Wednesdays, and if you take the first letter of each of their first names it spells out W.O.E.!!! (But they have brought so much joy to my life!)

    • My eldest and I are both designated woe-ful, so I at least attempt the probably indefensible “responsibility” reading given above … or perhaps the woeful dish out woe? :-p Was the initialism of your kids inadvertent? Deep down, I suspect the validity of the various superstitions…. My wife is a Monday’s child and African-American, for example—and though it may also mean pretty I’m skeptical it has nothing to do with complexion. (If it means “good things and a fortunate life,” why pin it down to “of face? Well, besides to rhyme with the next line!)

      My other son “has far to go” and wants to know what the heck that means.

      Yes, a great article.

    • Thanks Andrew. I’ve never known what day of the week I was born on, but your comment spurred me to finally find out. What would have taken me a trip to the Library and a research librarian 20 years ago was solved by the world wide web (otherwise known as God) in about 3 seconds from the comfort of my laptop. I’m Tuesday’s child — full of grace. :-)

    • >upinvermont: no trip to the library needed. There have long been perpetual calendars and several ways to calculate the day of week in your head. A tedious party trick.

      Now, a harder question on calendars (but not metaphysics): can you die before you have lived? See the headstone at https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/3919333/tumba.jpg In short, the infant Thomas was born in May and died in February of “the same year.” (HSE means “hic situs est” or “here lies”.)

    • That had me going until I remembered that they must have been using the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar — almost like a Mensa puzzle.

    • [did my comment go into the ether?]

      “Right idea but not quite. The Gregorian and Julian calendars were roughly co-mensa-rate, not this far off. The issue is with the convention of when the year started. England was off in its own world: until 1751 its legal year began on March 25th. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_calendar#Beginning_of_the_year & http://www.tondering.dk/main/index.php/calendar-information/1-information/6-did-he-die-before-he-was-born

      There’s a perspective issue here–like the first of the year or the days of the week, things haven’t always meant the same.

      This diversion brought to you by ADD….

    • Cool. That’s some really interesting history. As to the comments: If WordPress doesn’t recognize your e-mail address from a prior comment, it will hold your comment for approval. The whole idea is to prevent spam. The other possibility is that you included two links in your comment — this too will trigger the spam filter.

  10. Very interesting read–enjoyed the comments too. As a Wednesday’s child, and part-Sicilian, I have to admit that Andrew’s idea that we Wednesday’s children might mete out woe (instead of being woeful ourselves), made me grin. And my firstborn wants to know what “has far to go” means, too (yep, she’s a Thursday girl). Thanks all! :)

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