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It is well known that in some parts of the world Monday is generally regarded as the first day of the week, while in others that status is bestowed on Sunday. Given that, in a continuously repeating cycle, any choice of a particular point as its beginning is ultimately arbitrary, it is, of course, not surprising that different societies have adopted different conventions on this matter. (These two are not the only ones, but are the ones that are relevant to this question.) The United States follows the latter convention: people in the United States expect to see each week on their calendars as a period that starts with a Sunday and ends with a Saturday.

Now, weekend as we now know it, is a U.S. invention. The practice of organising employment in a way that provides for most people not working on both Saturday and Sunday first appeared in the U.S. in early twentieth century, became common in that country in the decades that followed, and then spread to most of the world after the Second World War. The use of the word weekend for Saturday and Sunday, considered together, presumably spread together with the practice itself. (Sporadic uses of that word can apparently be found as early as the seventeenth century, but they obviously did not have the same purpose.)

The question is: how did the U.S. invention of keeping Saturday and Sunday free for leisure get associated with the term weekend, when the Saturday-Sunday period does not constitute the end of the week in the way the calendar is usually presented in that country (as Sunday is seen as the first day of the next week)?

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  • 2
    If Saturday and Sunday are not the end of the week that began on Monday, then what days are?
    – tchrist
    Jun 13, 2022 at 20:41
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    Sunday is the front end, Saturday is the back end.
    – Hellion
    Jun 13, 2022 at 20:47
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    en.wiktionary.org/wiki/weekend#Usage_notes Historically in North America and parts of Europe, people would often work on Saturday as well, or at least until noon on Saturday. Thus the “weekend” might begin at noon or later on Saturday in older texts.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 13, 2022 at 21:04
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    @Mitch: I'm native to the US and I think of Sunday as the first day of the week. Not the workweek mind you, but there's no such thing as a workweekend. The workweek falls in the middle of the complete week.
    – Ben Voigt
    Jun 13, 2022 at 22:29
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    Even though calendars in the US show Sunday at the beginning of the week, Monday is still generally considered the beginning of the week because of traditional work days.
    – Barmar
    Jun 14, 2022 at 0:32

1 Answer 1

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...people in the United States expect to see each week on their calendars as a period that starts with a Sunday and ends with a Saturday.

You are correct that Sunday-to-Saturday is the dominant culturally-preferred format for American calendars; however, in my experience, I'd argue that it is simply an alternative display choice, and our cultural understanding of what constitutes "a week" is little different (if any) from that of most Western/European/Judeo-Christian cultures that prefer a Monday-Sunday calendar-display-standard.

To explain my position, I will try to first delineate how Americans define "the weekend" and then explain how days-of-the-week are most typically expressed.


To most Americans, "the week" is composed of "the workweek" (Mon-Fri) and "the weekend" (Sat-Sun)... (following a "standard business hours" model).

(This is considered true even by folks who work on non-standard work schedules; a statement like "I'm working bar all weekend, so my weekend doesn't start until Monday!" is a perfectly understandable example of how "the weekend" and a non-standard work schedule are often delineated.)

However, it would be incorrect to say that the above is a strict definition... primarily because of how we Americans culturally understand the concept of a "long weekend".

(Most Federal Holidays are designed to fall on either Fridays or Mondays, in which case, having three consecutive days off constitutes a "long weekend" regardless of whether it is specifically "this Friday" or "next Monday" that gets requisitioned for the purpose.)

So you'll probably find that the definition of "the weekend" is most accurately understood by a floating definition relative to the "workweek" where extra days-off supercede the status-quo.

(This can be further understood by the rarer cases when Federal Holidays fall "mid-week" and we end up with a non-"weekend" holiday surrounded by "work-days" on both sides. In these cases, we generally seem to consider "the workweek" to be interrupted/non-standard, rather than understanding it as two distinct partial-workweeks.)

All of that is to say that "the weekend", although somewhat vaguely defined, at least partially requires a consecutive-ness of Sat-Sun days (among others) as tantamount to the definition.

(Which is to say, that the concept of "weekend" as we Americans understand it feels quite analogous to the concept of "weekend" that most Monday-Sunday format advocates would likely find familiar in their general Sat-Sun cases. [Though I have no clue how they do/don't define a 'long weekend".])


In general, it is the American preference to specify by name what day-of-the-week something is to happen, or to specify by number what day-of-the-month something is to happen.

(In other words, I am quite likely to say "See you next Monday." or "Let's review this on the 15th." but almost-surely I will not-ever say "The follow-up meeting for this discussion will be scheduled for the fifth day of next week.".)

Basically, Americans are generally unlikely to prescribe anything by weekday-numbered standards (of either the {Sun=1,Mon=2,Tue=3...} or {Mon=1,Tue=2,Wed=3...} forms) and would instead prefer to follow named-weekday or numbered-monthday standards.

(In effect, this means that choice of {Sun=1...} or {Mon=1...} is not just arbitrary, but irrelevant. If someone said to me, "Let's meet up again on the third day of next week."... I would be much more likely to ask "So... on Wednesday?" than I would be to say "Ok, great!".)


So, in summary, the American "week" is defined by a "standard business hours" outline of "workweek" and "weekend" that will in most ways overlap with the usual understandings of typical "Mon-Sun"-calendar folks.

However, our preference for named-weekdays and numbered-monthdays means that we might balk at week-numbered specification as non-standard and ask for more clarity along either a week-named or month-numbered standard.

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