What Does A Busman’s Holiday Mean?

Busman’s Holiday Meaning

Definition: A vacation that involves the same activities one does while at work.

Origin of A Busman’s Holiday

This expression came from Britain and became popular in the late-1900s. The word busman originates from the 1840s, and it refers to the driver of an early version of a bus which was powered by horses.

The idea behind the idiom is that if a busman wanted to go on vacation, he most likely would need to take a bus to get there. Therefore, his holiday would be very similar to his working days. He would be on a bus for the majority of the time both at work and on holiday.

Examples of A Busman’s Holiday

define busman's holidayIn the below conversation, two friends discuss plans for an upcoming vacation.

Scott: Hey, what should we do for our spring break?

Tony: Let’s go to Florida! We can rent a kayak and take a tour to see the dolphins.

Scott: Tony, you remember that I am a lifeguard at the beach, right?

Tony: Yeah? So what?

Scott: I’m at the ocean all day, every day. I don’t want a busman’s holiday. I want to do something totally different than what I normally do. Maybe we could go hiking in the mountains.

Tony: I guess we could do that.

meaning of busman's holidayTwo friends use the expression while discussing possible destinations for summer vacation.

Richard: Hey! I see you have some pamphlets of vacation destinations. Do you and your family know where you’re going yet?

Miranda: We haven’t made any final decisions yet. My husband wants to do some volunteer work helping poor children get proper medical attention.

Richard: Wouldn’t that be sort of a busman’s holiday for him? Isn’t his job already as a pediatrician?

Miranda: Yeah, but that’s what he really wants to do. He loves his job, so he wants to bring his skills to an area that is underserved.

Richard: That’s a noble cause!

More Examples

The first example uses the idiom in an article about an event called Barkfest. A couple attends this event for fun, but it is similar to what they do at work.

For married Brooklynites Rachel A. Cohen and Francesca Maso, the event is a busman’s holiday.

  • They run Brooklyn Dogtime, a dog-walking and pet-sitting company. Cohen trains canines on the weekend, but nixed sessions for Sunday “so that we can be free for the party.” –New York Daily News

The second example uses the idiom to describe the vacation of a political writer. He ended up learning about Canadian politics during his time off of work.

  • I spent part of August on vacation in Canada, only to find myself on what was once called a busman’s holiday: Canadians are in the throes of a national election campaign, just like us. And, just like us, they’re grouchy about the state of their democracy.  –LA Times

Summary

The phrase a busman’s holiday is another way to describe free time that is spent doing the same thing that a person does at work.

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