Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The meaning of words. “Vacation”, an empty time

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This year, the summer holidays have turned into a real social issue. Finally possible, and more than a hundred kilometers from home, they seal a return to almost normal life after confinement.

franceinfo: Mariette Darrigrand, you are a semiologist specializing in the analysis of media discourse and director of the firm of Facts and Signs. We want to take advantage of these holidays to do everything we could not do during the confinement.

Mariette Darrigrand: Yes ! And yet, etymologically, “vacation” derives from devote in Latin which means “to be empty”. The vacancy is a time empty of work, a time when we empty our head to better fill it at the start of the school year. This void at the level of society can be radical, very strong. For example, when we speak of “vacancy of power” in the case of a country whose president has been dismissed or resigned.

But it is the positive meaning of “vacation” which dominates in the minds today, in particular when thinking of the summer holidays, these summer vacations which symbolize the advent of paid holidays. What is the difference between vacation and leave?

In use, vacations concern the private sphere, that of the family which lives according to the rhythm of the school calendar. Leave is rather reserved for the corporate sphere, the world of work. We are talking about annual leave, training leave. But the word “vacation” has more poetic connotations than that. It comes from an old Latin term, visit, composed of meare (to start, to leave) and to cum (ensemble).

Where does this “g” that creeps into the word come from?

Probably from the dialects of the South, Provence or the Côte d’Azur, towards Italy where it existed congedio. Beautiful vacation lands!

In English, the same Latin root gives the word “vacation“to say the holidays. Yet we know the word more”holidays“.

Indeed, but there is a difference there too. Basically, a holiday is a day of religious celebration. The word says it by the way, “holy“It is holy, sacred. It is the equivalent in the end of the holiday in French.

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