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Selfcation: The Self-Catering Vacation

As the summer vacation season draws to a close, we hear about a new entry in the "X-cation" trend from Stan Carey, a professional editor from Ireland who writes entertainingly about the English language on his blog Sentence First.

The portmanteau word staycation is here to stay, it seems. Even in Ireland, where we say holiday(s) rather than vacation, staycation (stay + vacation) has established its niche sense of a holiday at home, near home, or at least somewhere on the island. It still sounds new or awkward to some people, but it's been around a while: Word Spy has a citation from 2003, while Ben Zimmer found a hyphenated use from May 1999.

A daycation is similar, but happens in one day; see Macmillan Dictionary's article for more, including greycation and naycation. Last week's Galway Advertiser has a related blend that's new to me: selfcation, a self-catering holiday or self-catering vacation, presumably formed by combining self-catering with vacation (with a neatly overlapping /keː/).

Out of context, you'd be forgiven for thinking a selfcation might mean a holiday from oneself (cf. me-cation, a holiday for oneself), but the text makes its meaning clear. Here's selfcation used in the article 'Ten ways to enjoy a staycation in Ireland':

Why not go on a selfcation and hit the sunny south east where there is a wide range of self-catering accommodation perfect for families who want to relax in the comfort of a home away from home. [surrounding text]

Maybe selfcation has been doing the rounds in travel writing, but this is the first time I've come across it, and it appears to be a recent coinage. Not only is there no entry at the Urban Dictionary — not yet, anyway — but there's hardly any mention of selfcation anywhere online. Most of Google's results for selfcation relate to cations, positively charged chemical ions(from Greek kata, down, + ions).

There's a reference here (2001) to 'selfcated flats', but I don't think this has anything directly to do with vacation or selfcation; it's just a misspelling of, or shorthand for, selfcatered, i.e. self-catering:

Have you heard selfcation before? What do you think of it? Is it superfluous, unsightly, unobjectionable, useful, welcome?


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Stan Carey is a scientist turned freelance editor from the west of Ireland. He shares his fascination with language, words and books on his blog, Sentence first, and on Twitter. Stan has a TEFL qualification, a history of polyglottism, and a lifelong love of stories and poetry. He writes articles about the English language for Macmillan Dictionary Blog. Click here to read more articles by Stan Carey.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday September 7th 2010, 8:49 AM
Comment by: Phyllis C. (Lecompton, KS)
A holiday from oneself. Now that is brilliant!
Tuesday September 7th 2010, 11:05 AM
Comment by: soledad (IL)
I just don't like the lexical feel of selfcation like I've come to accept staycation, in reference to short nontrips now not taken. I see a much greater acceptability rating using selfcation either as a truncated form of self-medication or better yet, a quite common cognitive "disorder" we all at times succumb to, and that would be placating oneself with the most egregious rationalizations (something along the lines of "I really NEED this hot fudge sundae to feel better about getting bombed last night and waking up on the street with a dog eating chunks of greasy hamburger out of of my hair!").

So, I nominate selfcation as a prefix-created derivative (backformation) of placation, applied to one's self. We generally placate others, or others' feelings of sensibilities of decorum or whatever, but why not ourselves?

Here would be an apt usage: "Jack, you OK with ripping off the next couple looking to refi their house? Yeah, why not? Their loss is my gain. I gotta put food on the table, too, don't I -- and that's a good enough selfcation for me, dude. Next!"
Tuesday September 7th 2010, 11:07 AM
Comment by: Graeme R.
If someone could enjoy a holiday not focusing on self but others -- listening, empathizing, walking in the other's shoes -- it might become a rich holiday from self and for others. Great idea.

If it means catering to one's own desires, tastes, whims, etc., there's nothing much in the word that isn't already the aim of most vacations. So it's basically useless.

If, however, it's a caregiver's selfcation, it could be exactly what's needed to keep from going nuts or shriveling up inside in the process of caring for another or others in deep need.

I still think staycation and vacation provide such a neat contrast that they are both quite useful.
Tuesday September 7th 2010, 3:54 PM
Comment by: Stan Carey (Galway Ireland)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Phyllis: We all need one now and then! If I were called Holly, I would go on a jolly Holly-holiday.

soledad: Selfcation as self-placation is a fine proposal well presented, but it's likely to meet with some (modest) competition for the semantic space. As you point out, self-medication is another sense that suits the word as well as, or better than, 'self-catering vacation'; and Ben Zimmer found this usage in a recent blog comment: "a little self-imposed self-cation" (i.e., vacation from oneself). As I noted elsewhere, its ambiguity gives it versatility.

Graeme: Yes, context will have to do some of the lifting, at least until the word becomes popular enough in one sense to discourage the others. And it might never. I agree that staycation is useful, though I've never used it myself except when discussing it. You could call that an extended selfcationcation.
Friday September 10th 2010, 9:07 AM
Comment by: Patricia KS (Sackville Canada)
We had a fakation this summer: one takes time off from work for the primary purpose of getting more work done. Preferably, a fakation is taken in an enjoyable location and certainly without the distraction of emails and meetings.
Sunday September 12th 2010, 6:40 AM
Comment by: Stan Carey (Galway Ireland)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Patricia: I like the sound of that. My first thought was 'fake tan', but I suppose that's optional. I'm fond of straycations myself, where one wanders aimlessly and happily, without a planned destination.

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