What does this phrase, from Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow, mean?

Schnorp, his hair blown like holidays of hay…

There are no references to "holidays" or "hay" in the preceding several pages.

1 Answer 1


It's a very obscure usage. From OED definition #3 for holiday...

colloq. Naut. A spot carelessly left uncoated in tarring or painting; see also quot. [below]
1882 F. W. P. Jago Anc. Lang. & Dial. Cornwall,
Holidays, parts left untouched in dusting. ‘Don't leave any holidays.’

Here's a similar instance in a short story by William Saroyan

The four of them [ran] across a field among rain-flattened holidays of hay.

To my mind, Pynchon is comparing Schnorp's hair to a little pile of fluff/dried grass/hair such as might be found behind the sofa after a perfunctory cleaning. More specifically, perhaps, ungathered straw in a harvested field (that will be swirled into piles by eddies of wind).

Ultimately of course, this usage does derive from the normal sense of "holiday", in that it's a bit left over because someone took a short break while cleaning/painting/tidying up.

  • +1 I think you got it right. I certainly had never heard that expression or that definition before.
    – Jim
    Mar 2, 2013 at 22:37
  • @Jim: It's so unusual that I'm not sure if I just have a false memory of having heard it before, but I seemed to have a vague memory of someone using "holidays" to mean bits of dog-hair fluff in the angles between the steps of a staircase. I couldn't find anything in Google Books to substantiate a direct connection between fluff and holidays, but when I checked OED that was good enough for me. Mar 3, 2013 at 1:31
  • @FumbleFingers: The quote you give is not from Saroyan but from Pynchon, who uses it again in his contribution to the collection of short stories to which you've provided a link.
    – The Frog
    Mar 3, 2013 at 2:12
  • @The Frog: I guess that makes it a very, very obscure usage! I couldn't get at the full text, so I didn't cite this one, which is more obviously "marine/naval"-based anyway. But I do recall that Pynchon is fond of obscure references, and I think this is a typical example. Whatever - it's probably not a meaningless or trivial choice of words. Mar 3, 2013 at 2:28
  • Here's the usage I had found: books.google.com/…
    – Jim
    Mar 3, 2013 at 5:15

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