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Thank you, William the Conqueror!

Wikipedia tells us the following (among other things) on what teachers and pupils in Bavaria are about to begin (s.v. Holiday):

Etymology

Holiday

Holiday is a contraction of holy and day, holidays originally represented special religious days. This word has evolved in general usage to mean any special day of rest (as opposed to regular days of rest such as the weekend).

Vacation

In the United Kingdom the word “vacation” referred specifically to the long summer break taken by the law courts (and later universities)—a custom introduced by William the Conqueror from Normandy where it was intended to facilitate the grape harvest. The French term is similar to the American English: “Les Vacances.” The term derives from the fact that, in the past, upper-class families would literally move to a summer home for part of the year, leaving their usual family home vacant.

Well – unfortunately no summer home for this family, but let’s not be ungrateful. «Les vacances» have come, at last. The great German poet Heinz Erhardt (Okay, okay: he’s not a great poet. But he’s one of Germany’s most influential humorists of the 1950s and 1960s.) wrote a charming poem on the topic which is, alas, untranslatable, because there are no common syllables in English between “jungle” and “vacation” (or “holiday”). In German, “Urlaub” (vacation) comes from Old High German urloup, which originally meant ‘permission’. Later, in the age of chivalry, this meaning narrowed to ‘permission to leave (the company of a lady)’, and in modern times it became still narrower and meant (and still means) ‘permission to leave work for a certain time’. There is still a similar, related word, Erlaubnis, that has the same general meaning as permission.
But German also has Ur- as a prefix, meaning ‘primitive, original, earliest’ – as the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English tells me, since English has absorbed it, too (as in the good English word urangst ;-) ).
It is in this sense that “Ur-” exists in the German word for ‘jungle’, Urwald. And Heinz Erhardt uses “Urwald” and the word for ‘foliage’, Laub, to play on “Ur-Laub”/”Urlaub”.

Ich geh im Urwald für mich hin …
Wie schön, dass ich im Urwald bin:
Man kann hier noch so lange wandern,
ein Urbaum steht neben dem andern.
Und an den Bäumen, Blatt für Blatt,
hängt Urlaub.
Schön, dass man ihn hat!

On that note, here’s wishing carefree vacations to all my readers, either now or whenever you have them :-)

3 comments to Thank you, William the Conqueror!

  • Let us give thanks to William, and the vine! (I intend to do so this evening, actually.)

    Here’s to the holidays!

  • William Northey

    A little wine is good for the heart? (Red especially). Well I am not sure in my case! Perhaps I drank too much red wine. However despite heart disease I still imbibe in the hope it still has some benefit as well as the pleasure – so thank you my namesake William!
    Prefix Ur- … printed music that goes back unedited to the composers original thoughts is called Urtext – so now I know why.
    Enjoy your holidays one and all – and here’s to a healthy glass of red!

  • rip

    @Thomas and William: Here’s to both of you, and the holidays, and good health to all :-)