“On holiday” isn’t going away

The British equivalent of Americans’ traditional “on vacation” seems to be getting more established over here, at least judging from the e-mail I got today:

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 10.45.10 AM

Or maybe she was using it in a distinctive way, to mean “out of the office on the day of a holiday.” Question to British readers: can “on holiday” refer to a period of time as short as a day?

In any case, happy July 4th to all of you as well, and no hard feelings to my friends across the Atlantic.

27 thoughts on ““On holiday” isn’t going away

  1. We certainly have “bank holidays” in the UK – there were two in May, if I remember. Not quite the same connotation as in the US though (if Obama declared a bank holiday, maybe people would panic over their saving? If Cameron called a bank holiday – we’d all go to the beach!)

      1. Yes, we would – well, I would. But “on holiday” I think would mean something other that taking a statutory holiday off work. it has connotations of spending a time away from home.

        As indeed am I at this very moment.

    1. In the UK, “bank holiday” is used as a synonym for “public holiday” but Christmas Day and Good Friday are not actually bank holidays. They are traditional religious holidays (holy days). Bank holidays were established by the Bank Holidays Act 1871 and the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971. Most of them originally followed a religious day such as the days after Christmas Day, Easter Sunday, or Whitsun. Sorry to be pedantic!

      1. I have no doubt that what you say is true, but most people don’t know that, so for almost all purposes in the UK, “Bank Holiday” and “Public Holiday” are the same thing.

  2. Yes, you can definitely be ‘on holiday’ for a day!

    It’s not necessarily used to mean going away anywhere. Can simply mean you’ve booked a day off work.

  3. Yes, Ben, we’d call Christmas a holiday. But we wouldn’t call Halloween a holiday, because we don’t get the day off work for it. “Holiday” in UK English (at least my variety of it!) definitely has the connotation of getting a day off work.

  4. And a happy Lucky Escape Day to you.

    I though you might have done Antonin Scalia’s use of “Jiggery Pokery” in his ACA dissent.

  5. The word “holiday” comes originally from “holy day”, and since on (some) religious feast days workers were given the day off that eventually became “holiday” and then later also took on the meaning that’s more synonymous with the US English “vacation”, i.e. an extended absence, likely away from home.

    Even now, most UK “bank holidays” (aka “public holidays”) are on dates derived from religious feast days. I’d say it’s absolutely normal in British English to refer to a single day off as “holiday”.

  6. I would refer to a day off as holiday on my out of office reply (as we refer to x days’ holiday). But when talking to friends on that day off I would say ‘I’ve got a day off’ not ‘I’m on holiday’. And would never refer to bank holidays as holidays without the bank prefix. Especially not Christmas.

  7. In answer to your question, Ben, I suppose it’s possible to take a one-day holiday – though it would more often be described simply as a day off. If you’re “on holiday” you may be at home; if you “go on holiday”, that implies a destination. But we never use the word “vacation” (not my generation anyway).
    For us Brits the holiday season is July and August, never December. So the term “holiday music” brings to mind the likes of “Y Viva Espana”, not “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”! What you coyly call “the holidays” is universally referred to in the UK as Christmas, whether by Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians or atheists.
    Speaking of all of which – Happy Holiday!

    1. Pete, Your post has reminded me of when Birmingham City Council tried to rename Christmas and New Year to ‘Winterval’. They seemed to think that ‘Christmas’ somehow would offend Birmingham’s large population of Muslims and Hindus. In fact, the plan just showed them to be bonkers do-gooders who give socialism a bad name and Winterval attracted huge scorn in the right wing press. I am so glad it never caught on and exists only to remind us that trying to engineer language fails whereas wit, laziness, technology and the young seem to be the true engines of linguistic movement.

      1. Winterval was not an attempt to rename Christmas. It was the name of a winter promotion run by Birmingham. The organisers have frequently pointed out that the promotional material was full of references to Christmas. As just occasionally occurs, the right-wing press was less than scrupulous in its coverage, pretending it was a case of political correctness. How these myths persist!

    2. “But we never use the word “vacation” (not my generation anyway).”

      Vacation used to be used in UK universities for the summer break. It used to be shortened to “vacs”..

  8. I remember many years ago being confused and rather irritated by an enormous billboard advert for GAP clothes which stated “Holiday is Here!”
    It took me ages to work out that they meant “Christmas” and not that Gap stores were particularly fun places to visit.

    On taking a day off, one might say “a day’s holiday”. CertaInly a vacation-mail wouldn’t be activated for a public holiday, as no one else should be working !
    An (Irish) colleague at an American company use to refer to holidays as PTO ( which I think meant Paid Time Off and not Please Turn Over).

    1. But “paid time off” could be sick leave, study leave, compassionate leave etc. People often say they’re taking a day’s “holiday” when they mean one day of annual leave…

      1. Indeed, “leave” was the usual term where I worked. “I’m taking a half day’s leave tomorrow as the plumber is coming in the morning.” Or: “I’m on leave next week as I’m going on holiday.”

        My original contract of employment meant the company could actually insist that I took ten consecutive days leave between 1st April and 1st October for my annual holiday. (Weekends not included. We didn’t work weekends so ten days leave was two weeks.)

  9. Clearly I am odd here, as I use “annual leave” if I am out of the office on holiday/vacation. I find “holiday” a touch casual/informal, and “vacation” too American (!).

    OK, so tne left-pondians have mastered “[on][ holiday”. Any odds on whether they will ever start going on their “hols” ?

  10. In the UK and some other anglophone countries universities and the law courts have fixed periods when they are closed. This is a “vacation” because the place has been vacated. Most businesses and other organizations have “holidays” or “annual leave”. They don’t have vacations because everyone isn’t away at the same time and the place is not vacant.

  11. UK Usage: “Going on holiday” generally means going away for a few days or longer. I might say, “I’m taking a fortnight’s leave from work, and during that period I’ll be going on holiday to Cornwall for a week, and the rest of the I’ll be staying at home, or going on day trips”

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