Good Friday is part of Holy Week, the week before Easter Sunday. It falls between Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. Good Friday is the most important day of this week, as it commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. Given the day’s significance, it seems odd that we would use the word good to refer to this day.
However, there is a, well, good reason why we use this particular word for this important day—and it’s not because it was a mistake for God Friday.
What does good mean?
Let’s start with the basics. The most common meanings of the word good include “virtuous,” “satisfactory,” and “excellent.”
However, we have 47 other definitions of the word good, most of which are adjectives. Good is an old, old word in English. In fact, it’s first recorded in … Old English. Written evidence of this word, which is of Germanic stock, dates back to the 900s. The word good has had many centuries to develop a large number of different senses. Interestingly, the word good had multiple senses even in Old English. The epic of Beowulf used good both in the sense of righteousness and superior quality.
One of these many senses survives today in the name of Good Friday. We have records of the name Good Friday dating back to the 1200s. In this sense, the word good was used to refer to a day on which a religious observance takes place. The sense of the word good, here, appears to indicate “holy” or “solemn.” Calling the Bible the Good Book is a similar idea.
While this is starting to make sense, there’s still more to examine. Historically, other holy times of year were referred to as good tide, with tide an obsolete word for “extent of time” that survives in such terms as springtide or Eastertide.
And Good Friday itself has gone by another name: Long Friday. This was the term for the day in Old English and other Scandinavian languages. Long, here, apparently refers to the fact Good Friday, due to its gravity for Christians, involved a long day of fasting and devotional services.
Similar to Good Friday, in Judaism, a holy day is called yom tov, which literally translates to “good day” and has Yiddish and Hebrew origins. Tov means “good” and yom is “day.” (Yom Kippur translates to “Day of Atonement.”)
Other hidden meanings in names
The word good isn’t the only one of our everyday words with an interesting, ancient meaning. (The clues are there if you look closely!) For example, the word Friday comes from “Frig’s day,” which was named for the Germanic goddess Frig. Several other days of the week also have similar names (Thursday is “Thor’s day”) despite the fact most of us don’t worship Germanic gods anymore.
Similarly, the word holiday used to specifically refer to a consecrated day for a religious festival (a “holy day”) but we now use it more generally to refer to days off from work and secular events such as Valentine’s Day and Martin Luther King Day.