The day, of course, is ubiquitous as a unit of organization, regulated by our cycles of waking and sleep. But when we think about work, the dominant fact of our lives, we think about the week. Just consider the feelings the words arouse. Day: nothing much, except a little bit of hopefulness, maybe. Week: dread, languor, tedium, woe. Yes, we sometimes speak about making it through the day, if we’re having a bad one, but as Erma Bombeck knew, we always speak about making it through the week. Despite the etymology of the word, it is the week, and not the day, that has become the repository of the quotidian: of triviality, of drudgery, of routine. Days differ; weeks are always the same. Days begin with dawn; weeks begin with Monday. “Thousands of petty annoyances and grievances”: that’s the week all over.
The Sabbath grew into the weekend as industrialization made labor increasingly arduous, persistent, and oppressive. No more seasonal rhythms, farm work subsiding in winter, no more profusion of saints days. If the week expresses something natural—in the sense, at least, of an instinctive response to circumstances—it is the weariness of the spirit under the regime of modern life.