Stay a While and Learn About “Sojourn”

By Mark Nichol

After I posted a list of synonyms for trip, a couple of readers offered sojourn as an additional alternative. Unfortunately, however, they are victims of a common misunderstanding. Sojourn is actually a near antonym of trip. It means “a brief stay.”

The confusion undoubtedly arises from the presence of the syllable journ, which is cognate with the first syllable of journey and journal (as well as the last element of du jour, French and restaurantese for “of the day”). What do all these words have in common?

Jour is a descendant, through the Anglo-French word jur, of the Latin term diurnum, meaning “day,” which is also the source of diurnal (the opposite of nocturnal). Journey originally referred to a day’s travel but now denotes travel of any significant duration. (Tour, though it rhymes with jour, is unrelated; it comes from the Latin word tornare, meaning “to turn.”)

Journal, meanwhile, was originally a reference to a book used in church services. The meaning then shifted to any book for keeping personal or business records, and later also to daily publications. (The synonym for a personal journal, diary, is ultimately from dies, a Latin word for “day.”)

Another related word is journeyman, which acquired the meaning “a craftsman more skilled than an apprentice but not yet experienced enough to earn status as a master,” came from the association of such workers with short-term projects — they were (and sometimes still are) literally “day men.”

So, where does sojourn come in? Perhaps the misunderstanding about its meaning stems from the connective grammatical function of the word so: “I want to travel, ‘so’ I ‘journ.’” However, it derives from subdiurnare, meaning “part of a day” (with the usual meaning of the prefix sub-) and referring to a resting period during a daylong journey. Therefore, Sojourner Truth, the nineteenth-century slave turned abolitionist and activist for women’s rights, presumably selected that name for herself because she wished not to travel toward truth, but to abide in it.

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2 Responses to “Stay a While and Learn About “Sojourn””

  • Leif G.S. Notae

    Interesting, you always have something I never know and I need to learn. Very cool. Thanks for sharing this with us, glad you did!

  • Roberta B.

    Thanks for clarification on the actual meaning. That makes sense.
    Also, interersting point: diurnal = journal (daily/diary). This makes sense considering in some languages (or dialects) “di–” takes on a “j” sound and “te” is prounced as “ch.” I didn’t think of that, but hear it now.

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