Monday, August 24, 2009

Holiday or Vacation

I have just returned from my annual trip to the seaside. My holiday or vacation is built to refresh me, to recharge my body from the pounding of the last year, to improve performance for the coming year. It got me thinking. Why two words to describe the same thing? There are others often we 'take a break'.

In the UK we prefer to user the term holiday. In the US vacation is the more common term. I am sure that my US cousins are as familiar with the two terms as I am. I am also sure they will stick to using the tried and trusted terms they use, just as I do.

What is the difference? Vacation is the act of vacating! Leaving empty is not a description that appears to fit out modern view of the vacation! But that is just what we are doing, vacating our offices for somewhere more pleasant.

Holiday is a derivative of holy day. Not appropriate you might think but my period of holiday certainly covered one holy day as defined by the Roman Catholic Church. Back in the bad old days when employers had a little more control over their staff they were all you got away from your job.

Both words are derived from old practices or terms and have come to mean something a little different over time. This is how our language develops. There is in the UK a battle by more traditional media against the language developing out of mobile phones, blogs and social networking sites. They dislike the laziness of using terms like l8 or the short form misspelling of certain words, like luv. They complain about the lack of structure or grammar. They do a good job of being crotchety.

I am old but want English to be a living language. Look at the differences between UK English and US English. In the intervening two hundred plus years since the rebel forces broke away from His Majesty's government the two major English speaking nations language grew apart. We both still talk of special relationships, but cannot even agree on the pronunciation of the term. English is alive.

Look at French. It is desperate to remain as it is, the government has attempted to force the French to see standard French rather than English derivatives. English does not need a Toubon Law! We are happy to announce before a meal 'bon appetit' (even though the spell checker is proud to highlight our fault). The French media used to avoid le weekend and le fortnight to avoid Anglicising their language but there are no French words for these two important periods! Usage has won out and French is a richer language for it.

The Internet if altering language faster than anything else. Blog is still rejected by spell checkers, even those built to edit blogs. Twitter has taken on a new if not entirely different meaning. SPAM is not a tinned meat promoted by Monty Python's famous song. The list of new words and altered meanings is very long. These additions to language make it richer and easier to communicate not only on the world wide web but in our everyday life.

No language should be impervious to change. Usage needs to be tempered with sense. My own spelling and grammar are appalling. However, I still bemoan what appears to be the death of the apostrophe. I would like to know what is correct so that any deviation from the standard is known and understood. More than that I would like my language to the one that gets its message to the most people.

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