journalist/journey

Yesterday, while reading a sentence, a student tripped over the word ‘journalist’, but completed the sentence, then said “I thought that said ‘journey’”. I started to say “No, that’s a completely different word” when I realised that they are etymologically connected, through French jour, meaning ‘day’: originally, a journal was kept daily, and a journey was one’s daily travel, or travel lasting one day. Private citizens keeping journals may or may not have called themselves, or been called, ‘journalists’ (Samuel Pepys is always referred to as a diarist), and publications named ‘journal’ have never been restricted to dailies; indeed an academic journal may come out once a year, but is not an ‘annual’. A journey does not necessarily take place daily, and is often shorter or (much) longer than a day (eg Journey to the Centre of the Earth). It is probably more often used as a noun than a verb: I don’t say “I journey to work by train every day”, but might say “My journey to work takes an hour and a half”. Old French journal daily (adj. and noun) is derived from Late Latin diurnālis, and ‘diurnal’ is used in English to describe the pattern of flowers opening by day and closing at night, as well as birds and insects which are active by day (Dictionary.com). We don’t say ‘diurnal animal’ as often as ‘nocturnal animal’ because we expect animals to be active by day, unless otherwise specified. The word ‘journalist’ was not the language point of the sentence, so I had to make an instant decision whether to mention the etymological connection or not, and if so, to how much detail (bearing in mind that I’d be explaining it on the fly to people who probably don’t know any French or Latin, or the relationship between the two). I ended up saying something like “There was a connection long ago, but now they’re two completely different words”.

PS The original French concept album for Les Miserables begins with the song ‘La Journée Est Finie’. This is not ‘The journey is finished’, but ‘The day is finished’, known in English as ‘At the end of the day’. ‘journey’ in French is voyage, which in English means a long(er) journey by boat. One would not talk about a voyage from Manly to Circular Quay, except perhaps facetiously.

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