Monday, July 1, 2013

Let’s Take A Break!

Around this time of year, Americans turn their thoughts to taking a vacation, while Brits prefer to go on holiday. Holiday and vacation are used in both countries—but with nuanced differences. 

Holiday, which comes from holyday, meaning a “religious festival,” originated as early as the tenth century with the Anglo-Saxon halig daeg.  By the sixteenth century, it had changed to holiday, with a short o sound and was used to mean any day free from work.  In Henry IV, Part 1, Prince Hall observes: 
            If all the year were playing holidays, 
            To sport would be as tedious as to work
            But when they seldom come, they wished-for come, 
            And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.

Vacation, from the Latin vacare, “to be empty,” was used from the fourteenth century to mean “rest, or freedom from work or usual activity.”  Its use today in Britain applies mostly to time off from schools and universities, and is often shortened to “vac,” as in the Christmas vac or long (summer) vac.

Holiday was generally used by Americans in the same way as their British cousins until the late nineteenth century. From about 1870, it became popular among affluent New Yorkers to flee the city in the hot summers and head for the Adirondack Mountains.  They spoke of this custom as “vacating” their city homes for their lakeside retreats, and the term vacation replaced holiday as the usual way of referring to a pleasurable break from work.  Of course holiday is still used in this country, usually to mean an officially sanctioned day off from work.

The popularity of Adirondack vacations is attributed to a clergyman named William Henry Harrison Murray, known as “Adirondack Murray,” who wrote an influential series of articles and books extolling the virtues of the upstate New York outdoors.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has never had a vacation, primarily because he has never done an honest day’s work, from which he could take a break.  You wouldn’t call it work to create the following, would you? 
             If I ever took a vacation,
            I’m not certain where I would go.
            I might visit some foreign nation,
            Or possibly just Idaho.

            I’d love to view Italy’s fountains,
            Or ski up and down a tall Alp.
            Or maybe I’d climb several mountains
            With ice and snow frosting my scalp.

            Perhaps I would go to the seaside
            And sit there just sipping Martinis,
            I might even find myself beside
            Some beauties in scanty bikinis.

            I might ride a dogsled to Nome,
            Or to Mecca I’d trek on a hajj
            Most likely I’d just stay at home
            And clean out my dirty garage.

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