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Fortnight

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Fortnight

Postby Dr. Goodword » Fri Dec 06, 2013 12:25 am

• fortnight •


Pronunciation: fort-nait • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Two weeks, fourteen days

Notes: This term is rarely used in the US, but I hear it occasionally in British films. It is in a class with stone "14 pounds", score "twenty", and twain "two"—an oddity of numbering. Dozen for "twelve" is one such oddity that made it successfully into the mainstream vocabulary. The only family fortnight has is fortnightly, which serves as both an adjective and adverb. Why fortnight and not fortday? The early Germanic peoples counted days as beginning at night, as do the Semitic peoples to this day. In other words, they counted nights rather than days.

In Play: This word allows little wiggle room in its usage; it is narrowly defined as are most words whose meanings include numbers: "The course promised mastery of Portuguese in a fortnight, but at the end of it, students could speak the language only brokenly." I can think of no figurative usages: "We enjoyed two springs that year: the first when we visited South Carolina in May, and the second, a fortnight after our return to Northern Michigan."

Word History: This word is a contracted form of Old English féowertýne nihta "fourteen nights". English has a similar word, sennight "seven night old, week's", now archaic, originating in the phrase seofon "seven" + nihta "nights" (nihta = the plural of niht). This word was usually used in reference to the stages of the moon. Night has cousins throughout the Indo-European languages: German Nacht, French nuit, Spanish noche, Punjabi nisa, Russian noch', Greek nuks, Latin nox, and Sanskrit naktam "at night". It probably goes back to the Proto-Indo-European word that underlies Latin niger "black", which is today negro in Spanish. (We need now to thank Albert Skiles for suggesting today's Good Word about a fortnight ago.)
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Re: Fortnight

Postby amandel » Fri Dec 06, 2013 9:42 am

Portuguese has he word "quinzena", coming from "quinze", which means fifteen. On first sight, it would mean fifteen days; in practice, at least in Brazil, it means the same as fortnight.
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Re: Fortnight

Postby Perry Lassiter » Sat Dec 07, 2013 3:29 pm

Don't we all sort of round off things? We often say about two weeks ago, about a week, or several months. I find myself often saying a week or 10 days ago. I find the Portuguese term particularly interesting, because it doesn't seem to be based on days or weeks as we commonly think of them. I wonder where that came from?
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Re: Fortnight

Postby Slava » Sat Dec 07, 2013 4:26 pm

I don't know where it comes from, but according to Wiktionary, in Catalan it has another interesting meaning: "While the literal meaning of quinzena as a period of time is fifteen days, it is also used to describe the period from the 16th day of a month to the last day of the month, which can be from 13 to 16 days long."

i wonder if there is an English language Portuguese etymology site?
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Re: Fortnight

Postby Perry Lassiter » Sun Dec 08, 2013 2:59 pm

I think you can do that on Babelfish.
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Re: Fortnight

Postby amandel » Tue Dec 10, 2013 1:26 pm

Perry Lassiter wrote: I find the Portuguese term particularly interesting, because it doesn't seem to be based on days or weeks as we commonly think of them. I wonder where that came from?


I will hazard a guess: a "month", as time unit, is 30 days, irrespective of calendar irregularities;so, a "quinzena" would be a half-unit, quite natural. I guess it lost its meaning to two weeks, as that is very close and easier to keep track of.
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Re: Fortnight

Postby Perry Lassiter » Tue Dec 10, 2013 6:09 pm

Makes sense.
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