Meanings: “Date”

June 27, 2012

I saw the headline and immediately thought, “thank goodness I’m married to the most wonderful woman.  I wouldn’t want to be out there if this is what’s going on.”  The headline read “Academic Minute: Dating the Solar System.”

Of course the piece turned out to be about figuring out when our solar system was formed, not at all about unusual romantic liaisons.  But then I wondered, why do we use the word “date” for both marking time and seeing someone to whom you are romantically attracted on a regular basis?  At one glance you can see the connection: the first time you ask someone out, it’s for a specific day and time.  One of you might say, “it’s a date,” meaning a specific, planned meeting., however, provides greater depth:

date (n.1) Look up date at
“time,” early 14c., from O.Fr. date (13c.) “date, day; time,” from M.L. data, noun use of fem. sing. of L. datus “given,” pp. of dare “to give, grant, offer,” from PIE root *do- “to give” (cf. Skt. dadati “gives,” O.Pers. dadatuv “let him give,” O.C.S. dati “give,” L. donum “gift,” Gk. didomi, didonai, “to give, offer,” O.Ir. dan “gift, talent”). The Roman convention of closing every article of correspondence by writing “given” and the day and month — meaning perhaps “given to messenger” — led to data becoming a term for “the time (and place) stated.” (a Roman letter would include something along the lines of datum Romae pridie Kalendas Maias — “given at Rome on the last day of April.”
date (n.3) Look up date at
“liaison,” 1885, gradually evolving from date (n.1) in its general sense of “appointment;” romantic sense by 1890s. Meaning “person one has a date with” is from 1925.

But how about meaning number 2, the lovely Mediterranean fruit.  It’s slightly related, but the connection to fingers and toes is fabulous:

date (n.2) Look up date at
the fruit, late 13c., from O.Fr. date, from O.Prov. datil, from L. dactylus, from Gk. daktylos “date,” originally “finger, toe;” so called because of fancied resemblance between oblong fruit of the date palm and human digits. Possibly from a Semitic source (cf. Heb. deqel, Aram. diqla, Arabic daqal “date palm”) and assimilated to the Greek word for “finger.”



About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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