We're taking leave of our senses if we can't admit we go on holiday

'Taking annual leave' is a ghastly expression and suggests a far more pernicious process

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Have you noticed how no one goes on holiday any more? Instead, they announce pompously they are “taking leave” or if you receive one of those annoying automated email responses, they declare: “I am now on annual leave until blah blah.”

So what’s going on? Have we all become so terrified about keeping our jobs that to dare to admit to taking a holiday to sit on a beach drinking a pina colada or, indeed, climb Everest is too self-indulgent to behold? Is this new turn of phrase a result of the hard times we’ve been through since the recession?

Or is something more insidious going on? Are George Orwell’s thought police trying to sneak off with our minds as well as corrupting our language? Taking annual leave is a ghastly expression and suggests a far more pernicious process; that you are being “granted” permission to leave your work-station rather than choosing to go off and take a break.

Losing such a lovely and whimsical word as holiday would be tragic, on every level. Can you imagine a world in which Madonna sang “Annual Leave” rather than her hit “Holiday”, or Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn were on Roman Annual Leave rather than a Roman Holiday, or where Boney M sang “Hooray! Hooray! It’s a Holi-Annual Leave”? Quite.

Just saying “I’m going on holiday” gives you a warm glow. No wonder; it has a sweet genesis as the root of the word comes from the Old English (and before that from Norse) hāligdæg with hālig meaning “holy” and “dæg” for day. Originally, it did refer only to special religious days but as the concept of having holidays spread through the 19th to the 20th century, the phrase came to mean special days of rest or relaxation, as opposed to normal days away from work or school.

Having holidays is also a relatively young concept: before the Industrial Revolution, the majority of the population had only a few holy days each year. Only the wealthy had the time or money to take time away from their estates or factory. By the turn of the 18th century, most people had Sunday off but that was it.

The first big change came in 1871 when the Bank Holiday Act, passed by William Gladstone’s government, gave workers their first few paid holidays each year. By the 1870s, some skilled workers began to have Saturday afternoon off, and others, such as clerks, began to start having a week’s paid annual holiday. But they were a minority.

By the 1890s, most workers were given a half-day holiday on Saturday and that was when the weekend was born. With the spread of the railways, this is also when the first seaside holidays took off.

Holidays as we know them today only came into being in 1939 when Chamberlain’s Conservative government brought in the first statutory week’s annual paid holiday. By the 1950s, with the push of union bargaining, two weeks were common and, by the 1980s, most of the population had at least four weeks’ annual holiday on top of bank holidays.

According to a recent EU report, we are still being short-changed. Britons have the shortest paid holidays in Europe with an average of 28 days – made up of 20 days of holiday and eight bank holidays. Austria has the highest with a total of 38 paid days, France has 36 and Germany has 32. The EU average for bank holidays is 11.

So let’s not take leave of our senses or our holidays; let’s keep them – and fight for more. And change that automated email response message now.