F is for Fortnight


Romeo-and-JulietIt actually makes me feel sad and kind of homesick that fortnight is not a commonly used word in America. Although it is listed in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, I have heard it described as an obsolete word in an advert (commercial) on the radio and, most recently, I was stopped by Child 3 when reading Anne of Green Gables to her so she could ask me what a fortnight was. And dear Brits, don’t assume that because Anne of GG is a Canadian novel, the missing fortnight is a US rather than North American problem, because I’m afraid it’s pretty much a lost word in Canada too.

Fortnight. How good it sounds. I don’t like being without it. Such a useful and venerable sort of word. With its origins in the Old English feowertyn niht, I am sorry to see it going the way of se’enight which always makes me come over all Sense and Sensibility. There is nothing half so interesting about the word ‘week’.

But I have an excellent reason for it being revived here and that is… so that Americans can have more holidays (vacations).

In Scotland there is a tradition of towns having an annual ‘trades fortnight’ (not sure if this was everywhere, but certainly in both Glasgow and Edinburgh). The trades fortnight was when the tradesmen and women took their annual jollies. And this establishes that the natural length for a holiday is two weeks – not one week, not ten days, not a long weekend, but two full weeks. In my mind, a fortnight is the typical, normal length of time for a family holiday. But not over here.

Here are some great stats I found in The Week about how bad Americans are at having time off work.

The average number of paid days off a full-time American worker gets after 25 years on the job is…. 15.7

57% of Americans had unused vacation time at the end of 2011

23% of Americans get no paid vacation time


“That’s because the U.S. remains the only advanced economy on Planet Earth that doesn’t guarantee all workers at least a minimal number of paid days off.”


So here’s why I think it’s time to embrace the fortnight. It’s a language thing, but it’s also a cultural conditioning thing. I’m going to suggest that all Americans start planning ‘a fortnight’s holiday’ right away. Not that there’s anybody listening, of course, but I think it’s a fab idea.


Still with me? If you are and are wondering why there is a photograph from Romeo & Juliet on this post, I’ll now tell you why. When I was thinking about how fortnight was a word I’d rather not be without, I wondered if I could find any fabulous quotations including the word in question and came across a rather lovely piece of trivia courtesy of Mr Shakespeare. Here is a little excerpt from the famous star-crossed lovers’ play,

NURSE How long is it now
To Lammas-tide?

A fortnight and odd days.

Even or odd, of all days in the year,
Come Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen.

I will be very impressed by anyone who can tell me the date of Juliet’s birthday… without looking up Lammas.



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