Selfcation: the self-catering vacation

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. This 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?

Note: This post also appears on the Visual Thesaurus.

16 Responses to Selfcation: the self-catering vacation

  1. John Cowan says:

    I think of vacation as distinctly AmE, and use it all the time, but none of these portmanteaus seem at all AmE to me. I have to boringly say “I’m taking my vacation at home this year.”

  2. Aidan says:

    Although the potential half-life of a new coinage is hard to predict I expect selfcation to hang on as long as the manbag did (even though that at least was intuitive).
    I don’t like it at all. Staycation is horrible but it vorks because the stay rhymes with the vay sound in vacation. The fact that the t in in self catering is hard and the t vacation sounds like sh (forgive my lack of IPA knowledge) makes this sound all wrong to me.
    However, many of these terms only appear in the print media. Who actually says that they are opting for a staycation this year other than somebody trying to sound hip (and failing miserably)? I think that most people would use a full sentence as John suggests above. If somebody said that they were selfcating I might understand them though (although I would find it absurd).

  3. Sean Jeating says:

    To me selfcation sounds as if there is just an s missing before the t, and rat after it. It makes me shudder.
    I don’t mind, though, if other contemoraries like it …
    Well, and self-catering accommodation reminds me of that the owner of a five-storeyed hotel by no means is a five-storeyed hotel-owner.

    As for John’s “I’m taking my vacation at home this year.”
    In Germany a town with a spa is allowed to put ‘Bad’ before its name, such Bad Garmischkirchen, Bad Tölz etc.
    And people who like John are going to take their vacation at home, being asked “Where will you spend your holiday?” might answer: “In Bad Meingarten (Mygarden).”

  4. Sean Jeating says:

    Sorry for the missing ‘p’ and the redundancy. :)

  5. wisewebwoman says:

    Can’t get my head around it Stan, it sounds like someone is self-medicating. Not a good thing, I’m told.

    It also reminds me of all the signs I see above these huge warehouses in Canada (don’t know if they’re used elsewhere):

    “Self Storage!” yes, it usually has the exclamation mark and no hyphen.

    It always puts me in mind of storing one’s self for a month.

    Not a bad idea at all.


  6. Stan says:

    John: I would say something similar. I’ve nothing against staycation and its ilk, but I can’t see myself using them any time soon, except jocularly or while discussing the words.

    Aidan: You’re probably right — I suspect selfcation will fall short of even staycation‘s modest success. Portmanteaus can be jarring, especially at first, but the better of them also make intuitive sense, and I don’t think selfcation makes enough. Its second element is too obscure.

    Sean: Ha ha! Self-castration didn’t occur to me, but now that you mention it… it makes me worry about the missing letters. If staycationing is the plan, I bet there are far worse places than Good Bad Seanhenge.

    WWW: ‘Self Storage’ makes me laugh too. I can’t help picturing lockers and trailers full of people who’ve decided to take themselves out of society’s way for a while. Funny that selfcation should remind you of self-medication — while searching for examples of the former, I got quite a few false positives with the latter. Me, I self-placate with tea.

  7. Haha I love Sean’s self castration (but not the action, I assure you).

    Still a staycation can be a very profitable selfcation. I can drink beer and smear myself in baby oil (self lubrication), the former leading to to auto intoxication (self intoxication and thus still a selfcation!). This could make things difficult for myself (self complication) but I am sure the alcohol will bring flashes of intellectual brilliance (self corruscation? Damn I’m stretching things now!) and ferocious debate leading to violence upon myself (self altercation?) Conversely the alcohol could lead to a revelation after which I may form a religion in which I will nominate myself as being close to a living saint (self beatification?)

    Ach I won’t milk this any furhter but needless to say a selfcation may be a horrible portmanteau but the possibilities are endless…

    Alternatively I could turn my self into a positive ion… surely that will be the a perfect self CATION (duck and runs after that one!)

  8. Val Erde says:

    No, I’ve never heard of selfcation before (or your other examples, come to that) but I want to thank you for your link to the Word Spy site, I’ve never seen that before. I like an offering on the home page of ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ of which they say this: n. A yearning for nature, or an ignorance of the natural world, caused by a lack of time spent outdoors, particularly in rural settings.

  9. Claudia says:

    I truly like the post, and amusing comments. I never cease to be metagrobolized by what English is doing to itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if the French would adopt it as it did le weekend. But it reminds me too much of self sacrifice to means a joyous escape, even in my garden.

    (Isn’t metagrobolize the word we have the mission to spread? Can’t remember when, way back, here and on Omnium. I do my best!)

  10. Fran says:

    It seems we’re on a roll here.

    Maycation – a Spring holiday, or perhaps one that could happen, but might not.

    Traycation – a holiday in which you eat all your meals on your lap.

    Okaycation – a holiday that was kind of all right.

    Neighcation – a riding holiday.

    Haveanicedaycation – a holiday in American shops.

    Right, I’m off now. Otherwise, I’ll never stop.

  11. […] Selfcation: the self-catering vacation […]

  12. Armin says:

    Wouldn’t a Neighcation be a holiday with your neighbours?

  13. Val Erde says:

    Ah – I knew this rang a bell… here’s a Wordage I wrote a long time ago (I may put it in my blog sometime):


    A is for Aviation
    B is for Beautification
    C is for Consternation
    D is for Diversification
    E is for Edification
    F is for Faffing-aboutication
    G is for Gertrude Steinication
    H is for Helenistic-whatsication
    I is for I and Ideaation…
    I is for I and Ideaa…
    I is for I and ideation
    J is for Justification
    K is for ‘Kay, justa momentation
    L is for Letmegetmecation
    M is for Meenymoication
    N is for Neenynoication
    O is for Openendidation
    P is for Peedinpantsagainitation
    Q is for QueuingBrits in shoppication
    R is for Runningfor the busication
    S is for StoptheworldIwannagetoffication
    T is for Toomanyicationation
    U is for Ugandanicecreamationnation
    V is for Valueaddedation
    W is for Wubbleyou’s pronouncedstrangelyaition
    X is for Xtraneousitation
    Y is for Ydon’tyoustartfromthestartagation
    Z is for Zumofmybestfriendsarefromanothernation

  14. annie says:

    I am always interested in so many of the comments posted here. What a lively bunch of thoughtful and funny people!
    I agreed with the idea of words like Staycation not being spoken,but read, and that selfcation sounds like self medicating w/out a few syllables.

    shine on!

  15. Tim says:

    It is a little cumbersome to wield, Stan, but I like it. I’d never heard of Staycation before. That’s pretty clever, but not as nice as Selfcation. Because who doesn’t want a little self-catered R&R?

    The word for “vacation” in Japanese is yasumi but it is used for “absence”, “holiday” and “break”. We have too many synonyms in Englilsh (wee esoteric joke there with the deliberate misspelling). Since Japanese love portmanteaus, I wonder if it would be fitting to combine “self” (jibun) and “holiday” (yasumi) into a newly formed word. >.<

    Personally, we Kiwis talk about the holidays. A statutory (or public) holiday is not really differentiated from the school holidays. I tend to use the noun phrase "summer break" with students, as opposed to the American "summer vacation" or the more general "summer holidays".

    Which preposition would you tend to use with selfcation? I would say “in the summer holidays”, but “on my summer break” (as “during” is a little trickier and needs explaining to students learning English).

    “On a selfcation, you could…”; “In my selfcation, I went…”; “For a selfcation, consider…”. ;)

  16. Stan says:

    Jams: That comment puts you in the running for beatification, as far as I’m concerned. Thanks for the laughs, and please keep me informed of any (self-)(publi)cations.

    Val: I love your Wordage! And I hope you put it on your own blog; it deserves more readers. Word Spy is an endlessly interesting site — I’m glad to hear you enjoyed discovering it.

    Claudia: Thank you. Isn’t it curious how selfcation assumes different cloaks? Its ambiguity gives it versatility. Yes, metagrobolize is the word we were chatting about here and at Sean’s blog. I launched the mission, then took a back seat — but I happily notice you using it now and then!

    Fran: Those are great, thank you. I’m especially intrigued by traycation. I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad if it was a comfy lap tray, though I can imagine disapproving frowns in some of the fancier restaurants.

    Armin: It could be. A lot of these -cation compounds are multivalent.

    Annie: I’m blessed with the commenters here. What you say about selfcation rings true — it’s easy to imagine it being used to mean self-medication in certain contexts without there being any doubt about what it meant. In an email, Ben Zimmer alerted me to a blog comment where someone had written “a little self-imposed self-cation”, meaning vacation by oneself. So the word could make ground on several different fronts.

    Tim: Let me know if you invent a new selfcation-inspired Japanese word! If I were using selfcation, I’d probably say ‘on [a] selfcation’, but it would depend on what else I was saying. Your esoteric spelling joke is too esoteric for me, I’m afraid. :-)

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