Word Origins – Weekend


It’s a Saturday, finally. After going through a rough week, this weekend was the most awaited one. A whole two days off from work, in which I can do what I please.

But why two days? Why not three? and why two days in succession? If you think about it, this arbitrary concept of the weekend is a very recent phenomenon. Chances are that our forefathers didn’t have the privilege of spending two days of leisure.

Because It is a Saturday, I’ve put together a short history of the weekend to get you in the right mindset to make the most of your own.

A short history of the week

Counting days in chunks of seven comes so naturally nowadays that we forget that it is unusual way to think. The 24 hour days measures the duration between one dawn and the next, the months measures the time required for the moon to wax, become full and wane; and the year counts one full cycle of the seasons. The week measures nothing – nothing happens to the sun, moon or even the stars. Therefore, it quite easy to deduce that it is a man-made interval.

Now why seven? It goes all the way back to the Babylonian calendar in the third millennium BC. And the idea of “Sabbath” to rest one day out of every seven, is well cemented in the Old Testament.

From Day off to Days off

Throughout the eighteenth century, the workweek ended on Saturday evening and Sunday was the weekly off. But even then, how can you contract fairs, Christmas celebrations, sporting events in one single day – they used to last for several days at a stretch. Since Sunday was the only holiday, a custom was born to refrain from work on Monday. This practice became so common that it was called “keeping Saint Monday“.

Saturday half-off – Factory initiative

It is unlikely that the Saturday half-holiday would have spread as rapidly as it did if it not had been for the support of factory owners. Many few workers used to come on Saturday, so their output affected anyways and they had to close down. The Saturday half-holiday was a way out, so that they come on Monday with fresh energy and perspective.

Jewish Sabbath and Two day Weekend

In 1908, the first of the weekends came. It was firstly adopted by a New England spinning mill to accommodate its Jewish workers, as they celebrated Sabbath on Saturday, unlike Christians.

Henry Ford vision for the Weekend

In 1914, the great Henry Ford reduced the working hours in his plants from nine to eight and in 1926, he announced his factories to be closed on Saturday too, as he believed that an increase in the leisure time would support an increase in consumer spending, not least on automobiles and automobile travel.

The Great Depression

The final nail in the one-and-a-half day weekend was the Great Depression which begun in 1930’s and affected economies worldwide and sent unemployment in many countries as high as 20 percent. In such an environment, shorter work days came to be regarded as a remedy for unemployment: each person would work less, but more people would have jobs.

That’s more or less where we are today. However, It is interesting that the Great Depression did not led to any further expansion on the weekend. but who says the weekend has stopped evolving? There must be something in store for weekend in the future, But I don’t plan to think about it until Monday.