In the US, I never really thought much about the meaning of the words I used on a regular basis. However, nearly every day I’m learning gobs of new words and phrases. Or I am learning alternative meanings for words and phrases (for example, pants aren’t the same thing as trousers). One thing I recently learned was what the difference between a holiday and a vacation. A holiday in the US is a day that people celebrate something (e.g., Fourth of July, Valentine’s Day, Christmas Day); some holidays in the US are federal holidays, such as New Year’s Day, in which almost everyone is off of work (e.g., school, federal employees) and some places may have limited hours but are usually still open (e.g., grocery stores, gas stations). Other holidays are basically “hallmark card holidays” that are celebrated by most but you don’t have the day off of work (St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day). A vacation in the US means that you selected days that you wanted to take off of work to do whatever you want to do, except go to work.
I think many people recognize that in the UK, to go on holiday is to go on vacation; literally meaning that you took time off from work to do whatever you want to do (same as vacation in the US). No one says that they are going on vacation. Holidays in the UK also has the meaning of being pre-selected days that may or may not have any significance and are vacation days for everyone. I believe the technical terminology for these days are bank holidays (similar to US federal holidays). On these days, everything (and I mean everything) is closed, at least outside of London. Don’t expect to be able to get a taxi or go to the grocery store.
To make things just slightly confusing in this holiday versus vacation explanation, universities have vacations. Specifically “long vac,” or what most American university students would just call summer break. Long vac is “long vacation” composed of the months that the university has off for the summer. And because nothing else seems to be the same in the UK as the US, summer vacation is July, August, and September. This was all brought to my attention because students started university last week, the first full week of October. Many young people seem to just call it uni – pronounced as “you knee.” And as long as we’re keeping up with differences, university is different than college in the UK (but mean the same thing in the US).
I can actually see a difference in the amount of people riding bicycles in the morning. In some cases, they appear to have never ridden a bicycle prior to going to uni. And, unfortunately, the number of people wanting to cross the street has increased, meaning that traffic is stopping more frequently at all of the crosswalks and intersections. I’ve also noticed the number of people stumbling home from the pubs increased last week and weekend. They all looked 12 years old. Which probably just means that I’m getting old and can’t tell the age of young people anymore. More than likely, they are probably freshers, which is a really unique way of saying that they have started their freshmen year of university. The word freshers may be inclusive to all first-year students (including first-year graduate students) though this seems to be debatable.