When did fun become a thing? Our forefathers used to toil until they wore their pickaxes down to handles, their handles down to splintered fingertips, then their fingers into bloody nubs – and that was only Monday. Great-great grams and paw-paw didn’t have time for “fun.”
Fun came about in the 17th century. Nobody knows what glittery dandy-pit the word spawned from, but scholars think it came from “fonne” which means “a fool,” or “fonnen,” meaning cheat, trick, or hoax. Obvs, people had fun before then, but the days were predominantly devoted to work.
The first mention of limited work hours in the U.S. was a 1791 carpenters’ strike for a 10-hour workday.
If you found time for fun in Colonial America (1492 to 1763), it may have included cockfighting, dueling, or playing “King of Morocco.” A man and a woman stood opposite each other, soberly walked toward one another with lit candles, and when they meet they said:
Dude: Have you heard the frightful news?
Dude: The King of Morocco is dead.
Lady: Alas! alas!
Dude: He is buried.
Lady: Alas! Alas! Alas!
Dude: Alas! Alas! Alas! And for four times, alas, he has cut his throat with a piece of glass.”
Then they both ran back to their original places. This was considered super sexual. For real.
But no one had time for early-America sex games. It took until the 1830s for the 10-hour day to be a general demand.
If somehow you found time between working, labor organizing, sleeping, and family life for fun during the Victorian era, you might have played honeypot, jackstraws, or hot cockles. In honeypot, you roll into a ball and other players try to carry you as far as they can – like a heavy pot of honey from the market. Jackstraws was basically pick up sticks and hot cockles, well, it gets sexy again. One player is blindfolded, puts their head in another player’s lap, and extends their arms behind them with palms up. The blindfolded player then has to guess which of the remaining players is smacking the shit out of their hands and arms.
To make time for all this fun, the Chicago labor movement demanded and popularized the eight-hour workday beginning in 1864.
If labor leaders had a free 10 minutes for fun, they could’ve played a parlor game called “Squeak, Piggy, Squeak.” One person is blindfolded, handed a pillow, and encircled. They are spun about, stop themselves, and drop the pillow. Whoever they dropped the pillow in front of they tell, “Squeak, piggy, squeak,” and then try to guess the person who is pig squealing.
Them Victorians knew how to have a good time.
By 1890, the U.S. government finally started tracking workers’ hours and the average laborers’ week was 100 hours long.
If you could squeeze in fun, you may have bought Emily Dickinson’s latest poetry book, gone to a burlesque show, or – if you were a fella – gone to the saloon.
Finally, FINALLY, in 19-freakin-40, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to limit the federal workweek to 40 hours. Wherein, because it was a less-inflated economy, many families survived on one full-time income and had free time, which led to more fun. After World War II, the U.S. economy was booming, the American teenager was born, and fun in America was here to stay.
Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer