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It took a century to create the weekend – and only a decade to undo it (Part I)

[Reading level: C1 – Advanced]

We made up the weekend the same way we made up the week. The earth actually does rotate around the sun once a year, taking about 365.25 days. The sun truly rises and sets over twenty-four hours. But the week is man-made, arbitrary, a substance not found in nature. That seven-day cycle in which we mark our meetings, mind birthdays, and overstuff our iCals – buffered on both ends by those promise-filled 48 hours of freedom – only holds us in place because we invented it.


We abuse time, make it our enemy. We try to contain and control it, or, at the very least, outrun it. Your new-model, even faster phone; your finger on the “Close” button in the elevator; your same-day delivery. We shave minutes down to nano-seconds, mechanizing and digitizing our hours and days, paring them toward efficiency, that buzzword of corporate America.


But time wasn’t always so rigid. Ancient cultures like those of the Mayans and the pagans saw time as a wheel, their lives repeating in stages, ever turning. The Judeo-Christians decided that time was actually linear, beginning at creation and moving toward end times. This idea stuck – and it’s way more boring than a wheel.


Not long ago, free time was a defining political issue. The first instance of American workers rising up in unity wasn’t about child labor, or working conditions, or salaries – it was about shrinking long work hours. Those who came before us fought – and died – for time.


As the industrial revolution changed the very nature of work, things got worse. The new machines required uninterrupted tending to avoid the costs of starting and stopping. Dickensian misery abounded. Windowless factories locked in darkness. Rats scurrying. The deformities of child laborers with soft, bendable bones and knees pointed inward from standing in the cotton mills. The “mill girls” who populated the factories of Lowell complained of working the looms in the dark at both ends of the day, their eyes strained by the candles that provided their only light.


The clock became the ubiquitous new boss. Previously, workers tended to complete their work organically, in accordance with natural laws: the sherman’s tasks beholden to the tides; the farmer’s to the seasons. But with industrialization, clocks now determined the task, and the measure of productivity was how much labor could be wrung out of a worker over a period of time. Time had a dollar value, and became a commodity, not to be wasted. “Time is now currency: It is not passed but spent,” wrote historian E. P. Thompson.


Clocks in factories would often mysteriously turn forwards and backwards. Bosses were stealing unpaid hours from workers, who feared to carry their own watches for, as one factory worker wrote in his memoirs in 1850, “it was no uncommon event to dismiss any one who presumed to know too much about the science of horology.”


Mondays were the original weekends – Ban đầu, những ngày cuối tuần là vào thứ hai

Before the weekend became official, many workers took it anyway. Between the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries in England, vast numbers of employees didn’t bother to show up on Monday, playing the religious-holiday card by saying they were “keeping Saint Monday” (there is no Saint Monday, it turns out). Benjamin Franklin rather prissily bragged that as a young man he got promoted simply by showing up on Mondays for his job in a London printing house: “My constant attendance (I never making a St. Monday) recommended me to the master.”


Becoming efficient is a way of saying “I’m going to conquer time before it conquers me.” To slow down, to stop fighting time, to actually feel it – this is an act of giving in, which is weakness. Bragging “I never take a weekend” is a gesture of strength: I corralled time, I beat it down. Actually, taking a weekend means ceasing the fight with time, and letting it be neutral, unoccupied. Why isn’t this a good thing?


Binge work leads to binge play, and many workers were hungover on Mondays, recovering from bar games at alehouses, outdoor dog fights, and boxing matches. They were paid on Saturday, and stuck in church on Sunday, so they stole that Monday to burn through their paychecks and have some fun. (The idea of the weekend as the time to blow the paycheck holds today: Americans spend the most money on Friday and Saturday nights, and the least on Mondays and Tuesdays.)


Low-paid workers were actually willing to lose out on a much-needed day’s salary in exchange for a day of freedom, so deeply felt was the need for two days’ reprieve. It’s a trade-off most of us make all the time: time versus money. Do I pay the parking ticket or challenge it and lose an afternoon to the process? The financial hit of that lost Monday was real, so when the paid half-Saturday was offered, most workers were glad to accept the compromise. Saint Monday faded from tradition, and the half-Saturday holiday became the standard in Britain in the 1870s.


It took a century to create the weekend – and only a decade to undo it (Part II)



arbitrary /ˈɑː.bɪ.trər.i/ [C2] (adj): tùy ý

buffer /ˈbʌf.ər/ (v, n): đệm

outrun /ˌaʊtˈrʌn/ (v): chạy trước, vượt trội

buzzword /ˈbʌz.wɜːd/ (n): từ cửa miệng

rigid /ˈrɪdʒ.ɪd/ [C2] (adj): cứng nhắc

pagan /ˈpeɪ.ɡən/ (n): người ngoại giáo

linear /ˈlɪn.i.ər/ (adj, n): đường thẳng

unity /ˈjuː.nə.ti/ [C1] (n): đoàn kết

shrink /ʃrɪŋk/ [B2] (v): cắt giảm

uninterrupted /ʌnˌɪn.tərˈʌp.tɪd/ (adj): liên tục

tending /tendɪŋ/ (n): sự chăm sóc

misery /ˈmɪz.ər.i/ [B2] (n): nỗi khổ

abound /əˈbaʊnd/ (v): đầy rẫy

scurry /ˈskʌr.i/ (v): nhốn nháo

bendable /ˈben.də.bəl/ (adj): có thể uốn cong

loom /luːm/ [C2] (v): hiện ra lờ mờ

strain /streɪn/ [B2] (v): căng ra

ubiquitous /juːˈbɪk.wɪ.təs/ (adj): có mặt khắp nơi

organic /ɔːˈɡæn.ɪk/ [B2] (adj): hữu cơ

beholden to sb/sth /bɪˈhəʊl.dən/ (v): chịu ơn ai/cái gì

wring out /rɪŋ/ (v): vắt ra

commodity /kəˈmɒd.ə.ti/ [C1] (n): hàng hóa

mysterious /mɪˈstɪə.ri.əs/ [B2] (adj): bí ẩn

memoir /ˈmem.wɑːr/ (n): hồi ký

dismiss /dɪˈsmɪs/ [C1] (v): đuổi việc

presume /prɪˈzjuːm/ [C1] (v) cho là

horology /hɒrˈɒl.ə.dʒi/ (n): thuật làm đồng hồ

official /əˈfɪʃ.əl/ [C2] (adj): chính thức

bother /ˈbɒð.ər/ [B2] (v): bận tâm

prissily /ˈprɪs.i/ (adv): một cách tự hào

conquer /ˈkɒŋ.kər/ [C1] (v): chinh phục

give in [B1] (v): nhượng bộ

brag /bræɡ/ (v): khoe khoang

corral /kəˈrɑːl/ (v): tóm lấy

cease /siːs/ [B2] (v): tạm ngừng

binge work /bɪndʒ wɜːk/ (n): quá nhiều việc cùng một lúc, làm việc quá mức

hungover /ˌhʌŋˈəʊ.vər/ (adj): cảm thấy mệt mỏi và buồn nôn sau khi uống nhiều rượu

alehouse (n): quán bia, quán bar

in exchange for [B1] (pre): để đổi lấy

reprieve /rɪˈpriːv/ (n): xả hơi

trade-off /ˈtreɪd.ɒf/ (n): sự đánh đổi

compromise /ˈkɒm.prə.maɪz/ [B2] (n): sự thỏa hiệp

fade /feɪd/ [B2] (v): trở nên mờ nhạt


Chào bạn! Có thể bạn chưa biết, Read to Lead là một trang giáo dục phi lợi nhuận với mục đích góp phần phát triển cộng đồng người học tiếng Anh tại Việt Nam. Chúng tôi không yêu cầu người đọc phải trả bất kỳ chi phí nào để sử dụng các sản phẩm chất lượng của mình để mọi người đều có cơ hội học tập tốt hơn. Tuy nhiên, nếu bạn có thể, chúng tôi mong nhận được sự hỗ trợ tài chính từ bạn để duy trì hoạt động của trang và phát triển các sản phẩm mới.

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