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Reading an article on The Washington Post I found this:

"The study pointed out that the United States is the only OECD country that does not have a national paid parental leave policy. Some states have started to adopt such policies, but most parents are offered 12 weeks of unpaid leave."

The article was about children raised by one parent. I'd like to understand two things here:

  1. What does parental leave policy mean?
  2. What does 12 weeks of unpaid leave mean?

The great problem is the word leave put together with parental.

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as in leave of absence, its time off of work. – MaQleod Apr 28 '11 at 22:14
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Leave can be read as time off.

Parental leave is time off specifically for parents. So a parental leave policy is a policy about time off for parents.

The definition of leave as a noun can be found by scrolling down on this page: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/leave

2- permission to be absent, as from work or military duty: The firm offers a maternity leave as part of its benefit program.

3- the time this permission lasts: 30 days' leave

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I believe this meaning of 'leave' derives from "leave of absence", where 'leave' originally meant only "permission", not a specific permission. (No, I don't have a source.) – SevenSidedDie Apr 28 '11 at 22:21
Thank you for your answer! Understanding "leave" as a noun it becomes clearer. – Ed. Brazil Apr 28 '11 at 23:09
@SevenSidedDie: Etymonline is unclear, but suggests that you are right. – user1579 Apr 28 '11 at 23:13

Apparently, leave meaning "permission" is etymologically unrelated to leave meaning "go away". This sense, meaning "time away from duty", came from the first word (since it was originally seen in a military context, where you really needed permission), but I'll bet anything it was strengthened by the second (since someone "on leave" in fact leaves).

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As reported by the NOAD, leave, when used as noun, has two meanings:

  • [also "leave of absence"] time when one has permission to be absent from work or from duty in the armed forces
  • [often with infinitive] permission

In the reported sentence, the meaning is the first.

Joe was home on leave.
He took a leave of absence last year.
He is seeking leave to appeal the injunction.

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