Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


the first month of the year

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun January is a borrowing from Latin and French. It is derived from the Latin ‘Ianuarius’ and was first used in Old English, the earliest form of English.


January, the first month of the year in the western calendar, takes its name from the Roman god Janus. Janus, the god of beginnings, endings, doorways, and gates, among other things, was generally depicted with two faces, since he looked to both the future and the past. His month January is the gateway to the year. January is traditionally associated with sales, when shops slash prices to get rid of surplus goods to clear the way for new stock, although these have declined in importance with changes in shopping habits and the rise in online shopping. In Scotland the end of the old year and the start of the new one is marked by the festival of Hogmanay, including the tradition of first footing, in which people visit their neighbours as soon as the new year starts. To ensure good luck the first visitor should be a dark-haired man, and he should bring gifts including a piece of coal, salt, bread or biscuits, and a wee dram to share.


January brings the snow, Makes our feet and fingers glow.”
(Sara Coleridge)

“No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference.
(Charles Lamb)

Related words

calendar, month, new year

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

1 Comment

  • Other English expressions that include ‘Janus’ are Janus-faced, meaning insincere or dishonest, and Janus word, a synonym for contronym (both entries in the Open Dictionary).

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