Monday, May 4, 2015

Weekend? wha?

What was it like before there was a weekend?

Well, if you can rustle up one of Wells’ Time Machines and head back to about 1900, you’ll find out.

Or, use this shortcut: consult the Corpus of Historical American English, courtesy of the good folks at Brigham Young University. This dataset contains 400 million words from books, magazines and newspapers published 1810-2000. Analysts can determine the frequency of specific words used at different times in our history.

For example, “weekend” as we know it was mostly non-existent prior to 1900.

That’s because most working people were on the job at least six days a week. A mill in New England was the first American enterprise to set a five-day week for its workers, and other businesses started to follow that example. In the Great Depression, the two-day weekend was firmly implanted in the workplace—some policy wonks considered it to be a partial remedy for unemployment (more people would be hired to make up for “lost” productivity on Saturdays and Sundays). “Weekend” finally entered our day-to-day vocabulary in the 1950s.

“Overtime” didn’t get popular until the 1940s, doubtless stimulated by wartime production exigencies.

Finally, “commuter” peaked in popularity in the 1960s-1970s, perhaps because commuting was a relatively new phenomenon as the federal highway system blossomed and suburbanization started to become a factor in changing residential and work patterns.

Oh yeah, “conservative” is a late bloomer, it wasn’t really used a lot until the second half of the 20th century, while “liberal” has been high on the charts since James Monroe sailed into the presidency in 1820—but that’s a story for another post.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

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