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‘Holiday-maker’ is a stupid expression because it uses the wrong verb, argues Tony Barrell

MARCH 2018

Isn’t “holiday-maker” a silly phrase? It was invented centuries ago, and eminent writers including Charles Dickens have used it, so I’m surprised that nobody seems to have noticed how flawed it is. Most of us know what “holiday-maker” means: a human being who takes a break somewhere away from home. But when you do that, you “take” or “have” a holiday, or “go on” holiday, don’t you? You don’t “make” one.

“Holiday-maker” really ought to have a different meaning. Consider Bob and Ethel, who decided on the spur of the moment to visit Blackpool in the middle of May. They were taking a serious risk with the weather, which can be variable in the Lancashire resort at that time of year. But guess what: the sun shone brightly for each of the six days they stayed there, which they mostly spent plodding around on the town’s famous Pleasure Beach, lightly clad and getting redder by the minute. “The weather made our holiday,” Bob told his next-door neighbour Stan when he returned home to Basingstoke. So something that “makes” a holiday in this sense ought to be the holiday-maker – not Bob or Ethel, who were more accurately holiday-takers or holiday-goers.

When people go to the cinema, they’re not called cinema-makers

Bob and Ethel often go to their local cinema at the weekend. And when people go to the cinema, they’re often quite rightly called “cinema-goers” – not “cinema-makers”, which are something else entirely. Cinema-makers are people like Steven Spielberg and Orson Welles, who actually make films rather than just watching them. Holiday-makers, then, could similarly be people who devise or arrange holidays, like Thomas Cook.

Of course, many Americans get round the whole linguistic lunacy of “holiday-making” by “vacationing” instead. And now we have the neologism “staycation”, meaning to take time off work but remain at home, so you can be a “staycationer” as well if you like. The term “staycation” was coined by the Canadian comedy writer Brent Butt for a laugh in 2005, but people have begun to take it seriously now.

Whoever coined the stupid phrase “holiday-maker” went up to the big sunkissed resort in the sky a long time ago, and their identity has been swept away to sea. It’s a shame, because I would have liked to meet them – and land a haymaker on them for their foolishness.

© 2018 Tony Barrell

Tony Barrell is a writer, pop historian and etymologist who has investigated other popular phrases, such as “hunky dory” , “hanky panky“, “toy boy” and “Planet Zog“.

March 2, 2018

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I've been writing major press articles since the 1990s, and you'll find much of my work here – including interviews with celebrities, stories behind famous songs, reflections on weird subjects like UFOs, and some exclusive discoveries. My new book, "The Beatles on the Roof" – the first ever book about the Beatles' rooftop concert – is out now. Let me know what you think!

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