Saint Monday.

Anthony Grafton’s LRB review (17 November 2022; archived) of The Week: A History of the Unnatural Rhythms that Made Us Who We Are, by David M. Henkin, is full of interesting historical tidbits (we’re passing it on to a postmaster acquaintance for the mail-related stuff: “Meanwhile American culture developed a rich epistolary strain, with distinct rules for the brief, matter-of-fact business letter that should not be written on a Sabbath and the long, personal letter that could”), but its appearance here is due to the mention of “Saint Monday,” a phrase I hadn’t seen. Fortunately, Wikipedia has a decent article:

Saint Monday is the tradition of absenteeism on a Monday. […] The tradition of taking Monday off has been common among craft workers since at least the seventeenth century, when the workweek ran from Monday to Saturday as had been the custom and expectation for centuries.

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin refers to the practice, saying of his youthful employment in a London printing house, “My constant attendance (I never making a St. Monday) recommended me to the master”.

Later writers often ascribed Saint Monday to the organisation and improvement of working class life which occurred with industrialisation. Pay day was typically Saturday, and therefore workers often had spare money on Monday. In other industries, business owners had become accustomed to workers not showing up on Mondays and were prepared to put up with it. Food would commonly be left over from the weekend, thus workers did not need to visit the works canteen, and since many workers were taking the day off, there was often company to be had.

The tradition declined during the nineteenth century, but the provision of entertainments, such as railway excursions, was initially common on Saturday and Monday, and it was not until the middle of the century that workers were able to enjoy a weekend. In part, the decline can be attributed to the adoption of half-day working on Saturdays, which legitimated leisure time for workers.

Saint Monday remained in place longest among the better-off workers, including the self-employed who retained some say in their hours and were not economically compelled to work long hours.

I wish I’d known about that back when I worked in an office; it would have been a useful reference. (Also, workers should go back to grabbing as much time for themselves as they can and stop letting bosses treat them as available around the clock. But I digress.)


  1. PlasticPaddy says

    The French version is given here with a first citation from 1825. So maybe a borrowing from English or a parallel coinage.

  2. Interesting! If it weren’t for the great disparity in dates of attestation, I would have assumed that saint lundi, faire la Saint-Lundi were the originals; it sounds much more natural in French.

  3. A bunch of places on the internet say that the most common day to “chuck a sickie” down under is Tuesday. Said places being about evenly divided between advice to employees for getting away with it and advice to employers for preventing it. The Wikipedia article has Saint Tuesday, but doesn’t seem to suggest a geographical division.

  4. In Germany it was called Blauer Montag “Blue Monday”; blau machen “make blue” is a traditional expression for not showing up for work without approval. The Blaue Montag seems to have been semi-customary in the old guild system and to have died out during the 19th century with the more rigid time keeping due to industrialization.

  5. I don’t think San Lunedì is a particularly common phrase, but there’s a great Tuscan folksong that extends the concept:

    Il lunedì la testa mi vacilla
    oi che meraviglia non voglio lavorar

    Il martedì poi l’è un giorno seguente
    io non mi sento di andare a lavorar

    Mercoledì l’è giorno di mercato
    non ho mai lavorato, nun voglio lavorà

    Il giovedì poi l’è festa nazionale
    il governo non vuole ch’io vada a lavorar

    Il venerdì poi l’è un giorno di passione
    io che son cattolica non voglio lavorar

    Il sabato poi io vado sul cantone
    aspetto il padrone che mi venga a pagà

    Noi siam della leggera e poco ce ne importa
    vadan sull’ostia la fabbrica e il padron!

  6. That’s wonderful! It would be interesting to see an international study of the practice of taking Monday off and the various names for it and related cultural baggage (like that folksong).

  7. At my old office there was an unfortunate tradition among election worker temps of Friday afternoon absenteeism until the office started issuing checks at the end of the day rather than at lunchtime.

  8. PlasticPaddy says

    Here is the 1825 citation from TLFI.
    Il avait attention de les annoncer [les dons en aliments] pour le lundi matin, ou pour le lendemain d’une fête, obviant ainsi à la cessation du travail pendant les jours fériés, combattant les inconvénients de la saint lundi et faisant de la sensualité l’antidote de la crapule.
    BRILLAT-SAV., Physiol. goût, 1825, p. 299.

  9. et faisant de la sensualité l’antidote de la crapule.

    It doesn’t get any more French than that.

  10. Regarding the German “Blauer Montag”, I wonder if the expression is in any way related to Fats Domino’s 1954 song “Blue Monday”. Probably not, as the song is a lament for having to go back to work after a weekend, and no mention is made of skipping out on the first work day of the week. Even so, what is linguistics good for (for a non-linguist), if not idle and misinformed speculation?

  11. Gloomy Sunday, 1933. Hit for Billie Holiday 1941.

  12. Not to be confused with Cloudy Sunday (Συννεφιασμένη Κυριακή). Hit for Vassilis Tsitsanis (1948).

  13. I suppose you’ve heard of Poets’ Day? That is an English custom of only the last generation, I think. It refers to going home early on Friday: Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday. More recently we have Twats, who are people only seen in the office on Tuesday, Wednesday And Thursday, working from home, or simulating work, on Monday and Friday.

  14. I had not, so thanks for furthering my education!

  15. David Marjanović says

    Domino’s 1954 song “Blue Monday”

    Isn’t that blue as in the blues?

    The German version is said to come from dyeing with woad, which involves periods where you have to wait idly so you have a great excuse for taking Monday off.

  16. J.W. Brewer says

    It has just randomly come to my attention that Manhattan now boasts a drinking establishment named “Saint Tuesday.” See I’ve never been there but it’s supposedly “[n]estled in the sub cellar of the Walker Hotel Tribeca,” which ditto. Prices for cocktails not cheap but alas not out of line with the higher end of the current range in NYC.

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