Simanaitis Says

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VIOLET CRAWLEY, Dowager Countess of Grantham, delivered a wonderful line at Downton Abbey: She asked, quite innocently for once, “What is a weekend?”

The Countess was responding to Matthew Crawley, her distant cousin, when he described his responsibilities as heir to the Grantham earldom.


At left, Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, born 1842. At right, Matthew Reginald Crawley, 1885 – 1921.

Indeed, to a Countess born in 1842 the concept of weekend must have seemed odd. This got me thinking and led to a bit of research.

The Oxford English Dictionary dates a reference to “week-end” to 1879: “The holiday period at the end of a week’s work, usually extending from Saturday noon or Friday night to Monday.” It cites earlier use, in the sense of “end of the week,” to a 1638 Victoria County History of Yorkshire. defines “weekend” as Saturday and Sunday. It also cites the word’s first use as a verb, as in “we weekend in the country,” as occurring in 1901. offers an entertaining history of the word in “Something for the weekend?”

Like the Dowager Countess, farmers would find the concept of weekend a baffling one. The husbandry of animals and growing of crops have responsibilities each day of the week.

And, with the Industrial Revolution, machines left idle were unprofitable. However, religious practices gave rise to the concept of a day off. Typically, it was, and is, Sunday in countries of Christian heritage, Saturday for Jews and Seventh-Day Adventists, Friday for Muslims. On the other hand, each of these was intended as a day of rest and reflection; hardly a holiday.

The first U.S. five-day workweek came in 1908 in a New England cotton mill, principally so Jewish workers would not have to work on the Sabbath, from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.


Henry Ford, 1863 – 1947, automotive industrialist. Ford doubled his workers’ wages to $5/day in 1914 and reduced their six-day workweek to five in 1926.

In 1926, Henry Ford closed his factories for all of Saturday and Sunday. A canny employer, he cut his workers’ weekly 48 hours to the now standard 40 with no reduction in pay. This gave them more time to promote the economy through shopping.

In other areas of commerce, Saturday mornings continued as part of the workweek. I recall as late as the 1960s, Wednesday and Saturday half-days were common in Cleveland. Today, of course, stores of all kinds are open seven days a week; some, even 24 hours each day.

Quelle weekend!

In fact, le weekend has been acceptable French, despite occasional forays by L’Académie Française, France’s authority for protection of the language.


French employers appear more progressive than their U.S. counterparts when it comes to the idea of workweek. Both believe in the weekend/le weekend consisting of Saturday/Samedi and Sunday/Dimanche. But the French workweek has 35 hours, compared with a typical 40 hours in the U.S.

And, indeed, a 2015 Gallup survey revealed that American adults with full-time jobs were actually putting in 47 hours per week.

I wonder what the Dowager Countess would make of “overtime”? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

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