Saturday, July 01, 2006

kids breaking up (it isn't hard to do)

My friend is going on holiday (BrE; AmE = vacation), she tells me, "after my children break up."

This phrase always catches me unawares and I imagine the children falling to pieces, but what it really means is that their school term is coming to an end. A school or the people in it can break up, as in:

July 22, the day my kids break up, is ringed in red and underlined in triplicate in my diary: from thereon in, through the long days of August, no piece of work will be safe, no deadline certain, no commission guaranteed. Because if juggling work and children is precarious in term-time, it's 10 times harder in the holidays. (Joanna Moorhead in The Guardian)
The Spring Term begins on Tuesday 3rd January 2006, Half Term is the week of 13th February and we break up for the Spring Holiday on Friday 31st March. (Mayhill Junior School)

How much money have you set aside for your family holiday this summer? Because as every parent knows, once the schools break up, those prices soar, turning a relaxing break into a hefty financial hit. (The Sunday Times)

Another Briticism in these quotations is Half Term (also half-term or half term), a week off in the middle of each school term. There are three terms in the school year: Autumn (not AmE fall!), Spring and Summer, and there's time off at the end of each of these, plus the week in the middle. Working parents spend a lot of energy trying to figure out child care arrangements (or holidays) during these times. Because schools in the US are run by local authorities according to state, rather than federal, guidelines, I don't believe that the names of school breaks are quite as regular. At my school we had various Monday holidays, some time off at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter and a week in February that we called the week off in February. These days, I hear more people talking about Fall Break, Winter Break and Spring Break (the last of which is a long-held tradition at universities).

Another thing to note in my friend's quotation above is that she refers to her children as my children, which sounds a little stuffy in American English, where kids has all but taken over informal speech and is not seen as degrading in any way. I have been 'corrected' here by a school teacher who was uncomfortable with me calling her pupils (AmE: students) kids and when I teach language acquisition I sometimes become hyperaware that I'm saying kids, while my students are saying children. As can be seen from the Guardian quotation above, kids is used here, but comfort levels with the term vary.

Kingsley Amis (admittedly a linguistic curmudgeon) complained in The King's English (posthumously published in 1997):
My objection to [kid's] 'committed' use is not to be traced, I hope, to my being snooty, old-fashioned, old or British. No, this use carries a strong hint of being down-to-earth on purpose. It condescends to children and robs them of their dignity in just the same way as it denatures an Italian, say, to call him a wop.

He notes that the 1982 edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary marked kid as an Americanism, though the US tag doesn't appear in the 1990 edition or any other Oxford books I have. The word has a long history in the UK--as noted in the OED.

13 comments:

Rebecca said...

What do Americans say then? 'School's out'? (Alice Cooper, of course). I don't mind kids... My dad calls me 'Our kid' even though I'm married now. Up these Northern parts we say 'bairn', for a small child.

lynneguist said...

You could say, We're going on vacation:

as soon as school's out
as soon as the kids are out of school
when the kids are finished with school
when the kids start summer vacation

etc.

I don't know of any verb that is a real equivalent of break up.

lynneguist said...

Incidentally, since writing this, I've been noticing lots of kids. For example, our Marks & Spencer has a sign saying Kidswear 1st floor.

bbrug said...

I had no idea the word "kids" could be considered disparaging. Informal, certainly, but insulting?!? Good thing I usually refer to them as "sprogs." And don't live in the UK.

lynneguist said...

I first learnt sprog when I moved here and there was a notice board (BrE; AmE=bulletin board at work label(l)ed "Dogs, Mogs and Sprogs" where people could put up photos of their pets or children. The sprogs seemed to have been an afterthought.

pj said...

Re term names: the British 'spring term' is also (to me, usually) the 'Easter term'. To digress a little into university term-inology, which can be different (some now have semesters rather than 'terms', anyway): Cambridge has Michaelmas ('autumn'), Lent ('spring/Easter') and Easter ('summer'); Oxford I know is different but can't remember how. You 'go down' from both of these universities (and possibly others?) when you leave at the end of term for the vacation (not 'holiday' - though you might go [away] on holiday during the vacation - and sometimes 'vac', especially in the summer when it's the 'long vac'), and 'go up' again for the start of term.

Creeping Bobbism said...

Re. pj's experience of Cambridge and Oxford terminology, I've never heard any of this said by any non-Oxbridge student. 'Vacation' instead of holiday is a possible exception, although that's usually only used in an official sense as far as I know (the students just referring to holidays instead).

Kevin said...

We break up, we break down.
We don't care if the school burns down.
No more Latin, no more French,
No more sitting on the old school bench.


is what we used to sing in the playground on the last day of every term or half-term, but especially at the end of the school year <...cough> 50+ years ago: strangely enough, even in primary school, where we didn't do Latin or French!

Regarding Kingsley Amis and "kids", I must be a thorough curmudgeon myself these days, as I agree with him. Use of the word in an educational context by what should be "responsible adults" so often comes across as "Hey, look at me: I'm down there where it's at". It can be as embarrassing as your Dad doing "funky dancing" in front of your friends at your birthday bash.

Damien Hall said...

The Oxford names for the terms are Michaelmas (October to December), Hilary (January to March) and Trinity (April to June). They're named after Christian festivals that fall during each of the terms. According to Wikipedia (search for the names of the terms individually!), the names of each term individually are shared by other Universities, but I can't find any other University that has the same combination as Oxford has (or the same one as Cambridge, for that matter!).

I'm in my mid-30s, was educated at a traditionalist, strict school (and later served on its BrE Board of Governors / AmE School Board(?)), and have parents who are both teachers. For me, kids is a term I wouldn't use if I was watching myself, neither in a school context nor anywhere else. I have friends who use it without thinking, whom I respect greatly, but still I just can't bring myself to do it ...

Mindo14 said...

Midwest st louis MO area, we usually schools out, when schools out for summer.

Summer Vacation,
Christmas vacation
Spring/Easter break depending on if you go to public or Chatholic school
And the all federal hollidays/ "bank" hollidays

And her calling them Kids is the normal and children is rare.

Mindy said...

Midwest st louis MO area, we usually schools out, when schools out for summer.

Summer Vacation,
Christmas vacation
Spring/Easter break depending on if you go to public or Chatholic school
And the all federal hollidays/ "bank" hollidays

And her calling them Kids is the normal and children is rare.

Smylers said...

“Half term” can also be used to refer to half of a term — that is, the 6 weeks or so spent in school, rather than the 1 week spent out of it.

So in, say, early May, a reference to something being done “next half term” probably means it will happen during the period of teaching after the half-term break and before the summer holidays.

Whereas if it were to be done “during half term”, that would mean during the half-term holidays.

Similarly the questions “When does this half-term end?” and “When does half-term start?” are actually seeking the same information: when the current half-term of teaching ends and the half-term holidays commence.

However, if during, say, the February half-term holidays you declared that you were doing something “next half-term” that could be ambiguous as to whether you meant during the session of teaching that started a few days hence, or during the May half-term holidays.

When meaning the holidays you can always disambiguate by saying “half-term holidays”, “half-term break”, or even “mid-term break” (“mid-term” obviously can't refer to half of a term). But I can't think of a straightforward way to unambiguously refer to the period of teaching.

Mindo14 said...

we tend to break up the school year into "semesters" or "quarters". But we do have "mid-Term" exams, and Final exams. The "mid-term exams would be in the middle of each "semester" between the first 2 "quarters" then there would be first "semester" finals (final exams), then "mid-term exams between the last two "quarters in the final "semester" of school, followed by end of year finals (final exams)
.