Shorthand Day Symbols

When taking notes, I abbreviate the days of the week with symbols. They're quicker to write than English abbreviated day names, and they're also more distinct and memorable. In fact, since starting to use the symbols I've found that it's easier to remember which day of the week it is, so now I even include them in various web documents, which is why I've published them on the web.

I got the idea to use shorthand day symbols from Lion Kimbro, though he advocates the use of Japanese. But the Japanese symbols are hard to learn, and less characteristic, interdistinct, and easy to write than even three letter English abbreviations (Sun, Mon, Tue, &c.), which is why I chose my own instead. The origins of each of the symbols I've chosen are given below.

Symbol Day Summary Description
[Sunday] Sunday Circle with inner dot representing the sun
[Monday] Monday Last quarter crescent moon
[Tuesday] Tuesday Lunate "w" with macron representing fire and proximity to moon and water
[Wednesday] Wednesday Capital letter "W" representing water
[Thursday] Thursday Japanese character for wood
[Friday] Friday Sun symbol ligated with an "R" alchemically representing gold
[Saturday] Saturday Circle with horizontal line representing Saturn

The Symbols

[Sunday] Sunday

The circle with central dot is a universally recognized symbol for the sun, the sun of course being the etymology of the name Sunday. The central dot presumably helps to distinguish the symbol from just a plain circle, which is helpful since in shorthand it might be mistaken for the letter O or the number 0.

[Monday] Monday

Keeping in line with the etymologies, the symbol from Monday is the moon, in its waning crescent form (last quarter). As Wikipedia says in its article on the moon, "Its symbol is a crescent." Presumably since this is the most distinctive phase that the moon goes through: circles and semicircles could be confused for other things, and a gibbous moon would not be easily distinguishable from a circle, especially when hand drawn.

In choosing this symbol I was worried slightly that it might be confused as denoting the night time, the hopefully context makes that clear. Moreover, the symbols don't really have to be recognizable out of context anyway. If I were to have to come up with symbols for day and night for some project, I could always use some kind of modifier to show that it's the period of the day and not the day of the week that's intended.

[Tuesday] Tuesday

This is the only of the symbols that I devised myself, since I couldn't find a satisfactory existing one. The etymology of Tuesday is in the nordic god Tyr, though in France "Mardi" has its etymology in Mars. In Japanese and Korean, the Sun and Moon days are the same as in the occident, but the remaining five days are named after the five elements of Chinese philosophy. Tuesday is the day of fire in this scheme.

The symbol that I chose, a lunate latin small letter w with combining macron above, reflects both the Japanese scheme and its position next to Monday and Wednesday. There are many symbols for fire, but they usually either involve a triangle, often inverted, or a triple prong, usually like a V shape with an extra arm. Sometimes these forms are even melded into a bisected triangle, and I've retained aspects of that in this symbol.

The lower part of the symbol is the tristave with a rounded base, and though it was originally just a symbol for fire it also came to mean lunar nimbus, or halo around the moon. You can hence take the macron, the line at the top, as meaning that it's the day after the moon day. And, since the bottom tristave is essentially a lunate w, you can take that as standing for Wednesday and the macron meaning the day before Wednesday.

The symbol is also a nice play on the word "Tuesday", being that the middle part of the tristave and the macrom make the letter T, the outer part of the tristave make the letter U, and the whole tristave can be thought of as an E, more like a lunate epsilon, on its side.

Footnote: Kate Gladstone emailed me commenting that the lower pitchfork shape could be perceived as a hand feeding into the upper mouth shape, which would "make a very appropriate and memorable symbol for the day named after Tyr". Whilst I doubt that would have subconsciously influenced my design, given my sparse Norse mythology, it's possible that it was lurking in there somewhere, and it's certainly interesting that the other points that I recognised in this symbol came only after I'd designed it.

[Wednesday] Wednesday

In the elements scheme, Wednesday is the day of water, which is usually represented by triangloform or curved lines. A "W" is a triangloform line of this nature, hence my use of it; it's also one of only three days in the week that has an unambiguous leading letter, so it feels fine to use it. This is the only of the symbols to be rooted in the form of the English name for the day.

[Thursday] Thursday

Once again using the elements scheme, Thursday is the day of wood. This time I eventually plumped for using the Japanese character outright: it's simple and distinctive. I'd investigated many other symbols for wood, and tried to come up with some of my own based on the clog almanac character for this day, but the Japanese symbol also has excellent mnemonic characteristics in that it incorporates a capital letter "T".

[Friday] Friday

Friday is the day of gold in the elements scheme. Gold was a difficult thing to find an adequate symbol for because the sun is normally used to represent it, and that's already taken up by Sunday. So eventually I borrowed an alchemy trick whereby the symbol for sun was made less ambiguous by tacking an R to it. Note that in the clog almanac system, a R is used for Friday. The R in the alchemical sense comes from the latin name for Gold, aurum.

[Saturday] Saturday

This is the only day of the week that isn't based on the Japanese elements scheme. In the elements scheme this day is the day of earth, but the English name is derived from the planet Saturn, which has a very obvious and distinct pictograph. I say pictograph instead of symbol because the astronomical and astrological symbol for the planet is a stylised representation of the god Saturn's sickle. I've instead used a circle with a line through it, denoting the planet and its rings.


@@ What do you call the etymology of a symbol? Its origin? Doesn't sound right...

Sean B. Palmer,