month of Sundays

Discuss word origins and meanings.

month of Sundays

Post by stenoduck » Mon Nov 05, 2007 5:38 pm

I read in the archive that this may be related to "when two Sundays come together" i.e. never. I had my own idea on this relating to the meaning of a long time. In the Christian church year, all the Sundays after Pentecost are numbered "# Sunday after Pentecost"in order, until Advent.There are something like 27, 28 or thereabouts. This would be nearly "a month of Sundays". It certainly seems like a long time. A lot of people used to be familiar with the church year and would relate an event to a particular season, such as "Whitsuntide" or the time between two holidays. Please reply.
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month of Sundays

Post by agilis » Mon Nov 05, 2007 9:04 pm

I've always assumed that the phrase meant a fairly long time, something like 'many moons'. I suppose a month of Sundays' if taken literally, would consist of about 30 weeks. I'm not aware of any esoteric church calendar connections. That kind of speculation has the faint flavor of numerology and the Cabala. Definitely not C of E.
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month of Sundays

Post by Big Squirrel » Mon Nov 05, 2007 9:08 pm

Today, at least in the UK, Sunday is just like any other day. Pubs, cinemas and many shops are open, as are many other places of entertainment. It was not always thus and at a time when most Sunday activities except attending church were frowned on, time may have hung heavily on people's hands. So a month of Sundays might have seemed like a very long time.
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month of Sundays

Post by trolley » Mon Nov 05, 2007 10:35 pm

A month of Mondays would seem quite a bit longer, to me.
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month of Sundays

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Nov 05, 2007 11:22 pm

Leah (a.k.a. stenonduck), All sources that I checked said just about the same thing on this subject:

MONTH OF SUNDAYS noun phrase: An unspecified but seemingly endless or prolonged period of time; a long time; a period of time which feels longer than it actually is because of tediousness or boredom. <“It’s been a month of Sundays since I’d seen her.”>

The expression literally means 30 weeks, but rather has been used hyperbolically since its first appearance in print in 1832. In a bygone era Sunday, the Sabbath, for many Christians was a long, solemn day devoid of amusement – an obligation sometimes enforced by law! Entertainment and frivolity were strictly taboo and in the U.S. and some ‘blue laws’ regulating activities on Sunday were still in effect in many cities as late as the mid 20th century are still in effect today. And, thus, for the less religiously inclined, the tedium of Sunday, could feel like a long, slow, dreary time (or as Mark commented above “time may have hung heavily on people's hands”) and a month of them could be an eternity.
<1832 In a minute Thompson made his appearance on deck, and steadying himself by the weather topmast backstay, fixed his leaden eyes upon the land on the quarter. . . ‘and it's a devil of a gale, sure enough.--It may last a MONTH OF SUNDAYS for all I know.’”—Newton Forster’ by Frederick Marryat, Ch. 5>

<1842 “If she's not married till she marries me, she'll be single for A MONTH OF SUNDAYS.”—‘Hector O’Halloran’ by W. H. Maxwell, Ch. 18>

<1849 “If I don't get a better letter from you, or at least a letter with something in it, you may pass ‘A MONTH OF SUNDAYS’ at breakfast without any letter from me.”—‘Letters’ (1892) by G. E. Jewsbury, 29 March, page 286>

<1850 “I haven't heard more fluent or passionate English this MONTH OF SUNDAYS.”—‘Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet’ by Kingsley, xxvii>

<1888 “I ain't been out of this blessed hole . . . for A MONTH OF SUNDAYS.”—‘Robbery under Arms’ by R. Bolderwood, xliv>

<1934 “I am, of course, in hopes of something materializing, but all these countries take A MONTH OF SUNDAYS to decide anything.”—‘New York Times,’ 12 September, page 1>

<1949 “. . .they said that this was the first time that a press agent had hit on a truthful first page story in A MONTH OF SUNDAYS.”—‘Chicago Tribune,’ 9 December, page 18>

<1972 (advertisement) “So see your travel agent, call us or fill out the coupon below. Then come with us to the South Seas. We promise an experience you’ll be talking about for A MONTH OF SUNDAYS to come.”—‘Independent Press-Telegram’ (Long Beach, California), 16 January, page 81>

<1994 “There was a bit of boasting (‘We've done more in 20 months than anybody has in A MONTH OF SUNDAYS’), but Clinton's [[President Bill]] overall tone was plaintive.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 10 October>

<1998 “All in all, the Ministry of Agriculture is gaining the no-nonsense, get-your-coats-off atmosphere that Jack Cunningham could not have managed in A MONTH OF SUNDAYS.”—‘Country Life (Magazine’)>

<2007 “‘As a chicken farmer myself, I would not use this feed in A MONTH OF SUNDAYS’ said Charles Bourne of the NFU [[National Farmers Union]]. ‘There is a huge risk of a public backlash here, and whatever the EU says, I just cannot see UK consumers buying chickens that they know are fed this way [[allowing animal remains to be reintroduced into farm feed]].”—‘Evening Standard’ (London), 1 June>
And we know for sure that an expression has definitely arrived, and is perhaps ripe for clichédom, when folks start punning on it:
<1935 “The salad course nowadays seems to be A MONTH OF SUNDAES.”—‘My Dear, How Did You Ever Think Up This Delicious Salad’ by Ogden Nash>
It is also interesting to note some other related expressions:

A WEEK OF SUNDAYS: Seven Sundays or weeks as representing a long time [[one source said that this was the “British version,” which “is never heard in America.” – I don’t know if that is true or not]]
<1898 “Tes wark . . . never done, an' nar' a bit o' play for I . . . no, not in A WEEK O’ SUNDAYS.”— ‘Broken Arcs’ by C. Hare, I. ii. page 13>

<1901 “He . . . got to know her more intimately in the first five minutes than he might otherwise have done in A WEEK OF SUNDAYS.”—‘My Son Richard’ by Douglas Sladen, iv>

<1993 “Chicago Sun-Times; Apr 4, 1993; Pat Bruno; 1,163 Words ... “The spaghetti with meat sauce was not a good choice. The sauce tasted as if it had been cooking in the pot for A WEEK OF SUNDAYS.”—‘Chicago Sun-Times,’ 4 April>
A WEEK OF SATURDAYS (Obsolete): An indefinite period, a long period.
<1831 “No, you couldn't gess A WEEK OF SATURDAYS and so I'll tell you—cause it is unginteel.”—‘Constellation,’ 8 January, page 57/3> [[Note: First in print at about same time as ‘a month of Sundays’]]
THE WEEK OF THE FOUR FRIDAYS (Obsolete): An imaginary date that will never arrive:
<1760-72 “At the period that the hogs shall . . . feed along with the herrings; . . . or on THE WEEK OF THE FOUR FRIDAYS, so long looked for by astrologians.”—‘The Fool of Quality: The History of Henry, Earl of Moreland’ (1809) by H. Brooke, I, Dedication, x>
(Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary of Slang, Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Picturesque Expressions by Urdang, and archived sources>
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month of Sundays

Post by trolley » Mon Nov 05, 2007 11:55 pm

Now it has been explained six ways from Sunday.
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Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Nov 07, 2007 7:33 am

John, Wow! Time sure does fly when your havin’ fun. It’s been 5 years since I’ve heard SIX WAYS FROM SUNDAY when we discussed it and its many variations in some detail at six different ways to Sunday. Previous to that posting, I had never heard it and I have never heard it since. But it is a lovely expression and we did, I think, establish at the time – after a bit of a struggle – that it was a synonym for EVERY WHICH WAY, IN EVERY DIRECTION.

From my search back in 2002, I got the impression that this was a fairly obscure expression, but this time around (search facilities have improved) I found no shortage of examples of its use, even though I have never personally run across its use (how common is it out your way?) Also, at the time of that 2002 posting I had not been able to find a source that discussed SIX WAYS FROM/FOR/TO SUNDAY, although the proposed future listing in the venerable Dictionary of American Regional English was communicated to me by its editor Joan Houston Hall. But the wheels of dictionary production grind exceeding slow and Vol. V, which is to continue where Vol. 4 (P-Sk) left off, is still in the works. However, in a quick look-see this evening, I did find it listed by Jonathon Green in the latest edition of Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang (2005):

SIX WAYS FROM SUNDAY phrase (also SIX WAYS FOR/TO SUNDAY) [late 19th century and still in use]: Askew; at an angle [etymology unknown].

This definition doesn’t quite jibe with the definition which we established back in 2002. Cassell’s ‘askew’ and ‘at an angle’ imply on one side; out of line, in a crooked position; awry, which, to me, all sound unidirectional. EVERY WHICH WAY has no such restriction. So I would say that Cassell’s had the right general idea on this one but missed the mark by a bit.

The following American Speech quote I dug up is in agreement with our original definition:
<1951 “Another border-line colloquialism, given me by some acquaintances, is FORTY WAYS FOR (also FROM) SUNDAY; i.e., every which way, in all directions, in confusion. One of these acquaintances likewise knows the equivalent SIX WAYS FOR SUNDAY, which is mentioned by DAE [[Dictionary of American English]]”—‘American Speech,’ Vol. 26, No. 1, February, page 66>

And the following quotes from various respectable sources seem to support that EVERY WHICH WAY is the generally accepted usage:
<1841 “. . .and as for his hat, which was of dingy white felt . . . it has once evidently seen better days; but now, alas, it was only the shadow of its glory. Whether the tempest of time had beaten the top in, or the lad’s expanding genius had burst it out, was difficult to tell; at any rate it was missing—and through the aperture red hairs in abundance stood SIX WAYS FOR SUNDAY.”—‘Madison Enquirer’ (Wisconsin), 9 January, page 4>

<1910 ‘Humorous Quips - Elegy of a Country Church Yard: “But all is over and his soul is borne / To that far away country of the wine and corn / To jump SIX WAYS FOR SUNDAY every time / The Angel Gariel toots his horn.—St.Louis Post-Dispatch.”—‘Gettysburg Times’ (Pennsylvania), 10 October, page 2>

<1944 “‘Some of the boys just don’t have common sense,’ said Weber. ‘They seem to expect the Army to think for them. When you’re under fire, you’ve got to think SIX WAYS FROM SUNDAY.”—‘Yank - The Army Weekly’ (New York, New York), 26 May, page 3>

<1965 “At the time the Republicans were split SIX WAYS TO SUNDAY and their prestigious civil rights spokesman . . . was content to follow the lead of the White House – and of Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois, the mighty Senate Republican leader.”—‘Wisconsin State Journal’ (Madison), 15 April, page 11>

<1987 “Once the author has convinced us SIX WAYS FROM SUNDAY THAT [[his method]] is a general mathematical principle . . .”—‘SIAM Review’ [[Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics]], Vol. 29, No. 1, March, page 150>

<1988 [book review) “A book of this sort . . . cannot be expected to nail down a complete Southern ‘bestiary,’ . . . What it [[Southern Folk, Plain and Fancy: Native White Social Types (1986) by John Shelton Reed‘]] does do is show the descriptive utility of that concept. In so doing, it makes for an easy but informative way for the ‘Outsider’ to learn something about the South and the SIX-WAYS-TO-SUNDAY mix of ‘native white social types.’”—‘Contemporary Sociology,’ Vol. 17, No. 3, May, page 295>

<1992 This place specializes in turkey and does it SIX WAYS FROM SUNDAY.”—‘Chicago Sun-Times,’ September>

<1992 “But my friend planted it [[the blue dawn flower, Ipomoea learii]] on a south wall of his house, where it grew SIX WAYS FOR SUNDAY.”—‘Washington Post,’ 2 February>

<1996 “Frances Fitzgerald, for her part, asserts that the story about the origins and manifest destiny of the United States that is central to political rhetoric is largely mythical and told less by school teachers and college professors than by politicians and political commentators. ‘The great teller of it was Ronald Reagan. Reagan could tell it SIX WAYS TO SUNDAY. . . For most Americans, it was a pleasant, reassuring way to hear about their natural history . . .”—‘History and Theory,’ Vol. 35, No. 2, May, page 253>

<1999 (book review of The Poisonwood Bible (1998) by Kingsolver) “Orleanna is looking back on events, arguing with an unknown accuser, hounded by guilt, by questions of complicity: ‘but still I’ll insist I was only a captive witness. What is the conqueror’s wife [[wife of a Baptist missionary in the Congo of 1960]], if not a conquest herself? That’s what we yell back at history, always, always. It wasn’t just me; there were crimes strewn SIX WAYS TO SUNDAY, and I had my own mouths to feed. I didn’t know.’”—‘The Women's Review of Books,’ Vol. 16, No. 7, April, page 8>

<2005 “The Democrats are amazingly united; there are very few who will support any personal accounts. The Republicans are split about SIX WAYS FROM SUNDAY, and a lot of Republicans do not want to pass a reform of a popular measure without Democratic support.”–‘NPR,’ 11 January>

<2007 “the authorities there say this is legal and they've looked at this SIX WAYS FROM SUNDAY in an effort to find some law that he could be charged under.”—‘Finance Wire,’ 31 July>

<2007 “ESPN has covered the multicar wreck SIX WAYS TO SUNDAY. Replays, interviews and analysis have been done, and now the network needs a break. As in a commercial break.”—‘Charlotte Observer’ (Charlotte, North Carolina), 14 October>
(all quotes from various archived sources)
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month of Sundays

Post by russcable » Wed Nov 07, 2007 7:41 am

Ken Greenwald wrote:
... and in the U.S. some ‘blue laws’ regulating activities on Sunday were still in effect in many cities as late as the mid 20th century...
What do you consider mid-20th century?

On Sundays right now in Texas, I can't buy a car or hard liquor (except by the drink) on Sundays. And I can only buy beer and wine from noon until 9pm. (of course, that's only if you're in a district that allows beer and wine sales at all).

Up until 1985, most stores (except food stores) were usually closed on Sundays because there were so many things that you couldn't sell.

There were also some pretty extreme blue laws when I lived in New Orleans in 1980-82. In the few stores that actually were open on Sundays, they had to arrange their merchandise so they could block the "bad" aisles or cover the "bad" shelves with paper or cloth. For example, as I recall, you could buy paint and nails, but not paint brushes or hammers. You could not buy an electric appliance. You could buy a battery-operated appliance but not the batteries for it. Etc.
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Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Nov 07, 2007 7:57 am

But in Texas you can fortunately buy a senator or a State Representative 24/7/365·25. That must represent some kind of hope for the future.
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month of Sundays

Post by Tony Farg » Wed Nov 07, 2007 7:58 am

Bet you could still buy a gun, though?
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month of Sundays

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Nov 07, 2007 8:31 am

Russ, You're absolutely right on the blue laws and I've corrected my above statement.
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Post by tony h » Wed Nov 07, 2007 9:57 am

I have been puzzling over this and I find myself making a difference in my usage between: "in a month of Sundays" and "for a month of Sundays"

The first seems to come from my middle class relatives, or influences, to describe the size of a non-work task. As in: it will take more than a month of Sundays to get the decorating finished. In this usage it seems to imply : if you had all the time in the world the task is just too big. It does not seem to imply just working on a Sunday. Is the use of Sunday simply the day people were not at work?

For a month of Sundays seems to imply elapsed time (and can be work related but isn't usually). eg it will take a month of Sundays for that to grow again. This is equivalent to it will take weeks/years ...
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month of Sundays

Post by Big Squirrel » Wed Nov 07, 2007 10:15 am

Sunday trading laws are fairly liberal now here in the UK but I can remember a time, not too many years ago, when you could buy a top-shelf magazine on a Sunday but not a Bible!
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Post by Bobinwales » Wed Nov 07, 2007 10:57 am

Big Squirrel wrote: Sunday trading laws are fairly liberal now here in the UK but I can remember a time, not too many years ago, when you could buy a top-shelf magazine on a Sunday but not a Bible!
And ham but not bacon, because you didn't have to cook the ham yourself.

And as for the Welsh drinking laws... There were pubs where you could buy a Sunday pint in the bar but not in the lounge because the county border ran through the place, and all sorts of insanity. The first time I ever voted was in 1968 (you had to be 21 then), it was a referendum on keeping the pubs open in Swansea which was where I was living. We won!
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

month of Sundays

Post by gdwdwrkr » Wed Nov 07, 2007 11:12 am

I don't remember laws, but I do remember Sundays being quiet and relaxed. Most understood that there was time enough to do shopping during the rest of the week. Everything was slower. Now, with 24/7, you'd think there would be more time to do what you want to get done. There seems to be less.
Up until about two years ago there was an ordinance against outdoor burning on Mondays. Monday was wash day. You wouldn't want to smoke up your neighbors' laundry.
Until around 1980 we had a train track going right through the middle of town. Cars were stopped and we got out and visited or shopped while we waited. No one was in such a hurry. We had a fire station on each side of the tracks.
Schools scheduled no extra-cirricular events on Wednesday evenings. Many went to church on Wednesday evenings. In fact, all the stores in town closed at noon on Wednesdays.
These traditions may sound ridiculous to many (who have as much care for such as a hog has for Sunday) , especially the young, but they are from a kinder, gentler time. I wouldn't force others to abide by them, but I still do, as much as possible.
Ken says a month of Sundays could be an eternity. It could be that the phrase may have started among the "religiously-inclined" to represent just that, the eternal day of worship, since there will be no need for the sun or moon, thus no "day", no differentiation of days, no Sundays!
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