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I am reading U and non-U by Alan S.C. Ross, written in 1956. He wrote that the preposition on was non-U in the following sentence:

She's on holiday

This made me wonder what the correct U preposition or other expression was. I tried some prepositions in Ngrams, like at, with, and in, but none made me any wiser; I saw mainly noun adjectives and other noise. Does anyone have an idea what other preposition or expression might have been used?


(Search words: on holiday, U, non-U)

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    Why do you assume that U English used any preposition at all there? (Not that I would know; I wasn't even born then.) What about she's taking a holiday? Sep 12, 2012 at 4:20
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    It was probably "she's holidaying".
    – user16269
    Sep 12, 2012 at 4:24
  • The expression on holiday has two senses, at least here in the UK: (a) off work for recreational etc purposes; (b) away (from the understood 'here' location) at a resort etc for recreational purposes. As I remember it, it was, in 1956, quite normal (the usual expression, in fact) to use she's on holiday - for either sense. If one were say secretary at the girl's school, or a neighbour, one would usually say 'She's away on holiday.' She's taking a holiday would imply mild contrast with her usual lifestyle, and She's holidaying / vacationing would have sounded pretentious hereabouts. Sep 12, 2012 at 7:28
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    If it hadn't been for Ross' explicit mention of the preposition, my guess would have been that it's not the preposition at issue here, but the phrases "she's on holiday" vs. "she's on vacation".
    – J.R.
    Sep 12, 2012 at 9:02
  • @PeterShor: Yes, you may be right: I was too much focused on prepositions. What David and Barrie have suggested could very well be it, "she's holidaying". Sep 12, 2012 at 16:39

1 Answer 1

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Ross mentions it briefly in his 1954 paper, where he gives it as an example of his claim that 'Some phrases with prepositions are non-U', but he doesn't offer the U alternative. As David has said in his comment, it’s quite possible that U speakers would say She’s holidaying. Holiday is first recorded as a verb in the OED in 1869.

Two other examples of the non-U use of prepositions he gives are 'He's at boarding-school' and 'We were at table'. There, too, the U alternatives are not given, but my own suggestions are 'He's boarding' and 'We were dining', both of which, like 'holidaying', use a verb in place of a prepositional phrase. (Of the first, Ross rather grandly states 'In any case, boarding-school is little used by U-speakers, for, to most of them, there is no other kind of school.')

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  • This would solve the problem, yes. Somehow I thought he had other prepositions in mind, not a different construction, perhaps because I could imagine a preposition like in being used with boarding-school. What do you base your suggestions on: the fact that they are at all possible? You're probably right, and I'll give you the check mark in a day or two. Sep 12, 2012 at 15:25
  • @Cerberus: I base my suggestions, I'm afraid, on nothing other than the intuition of a speaker of British English of fairly long standing, who has heard a good deal of English spoken by all classes and read many varieties printed as dialogue. Sep 12, 2012 at 15:38
  • Okay, I consider that a source of significant authority. The only thing I would like to know is this: how sure do you feel about your suggestions? Are they mere possibilities, as in, "hmm who knows, it could be this", or do you feel that they are probably correct? Sep 12, 2012 at 16:38
  • @Cerberus: I feel they're probably correct, but I'd be interested in any other views. Sep 12, 2012 at 18:36
  • OK that's good enough for me. Sep 16, 2012 at 23:31

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