Given how work (side gigs included) has, for many people, bled into nights and weekends, Petersen says, “Two days is not enough—it’s just not … For people I know, myself included, Saturday is a catch-up day, and then Sunday is the only real day of leisure. So people, as soon as they start, they're like, ‘It’s about to end!’ You're so conscious of the fact that it’s so short.”
This is the economic milieu from which the Sunday scaries have emerged. It is responsible for the Sunday scaries–branded vegan CBD gummies, the how-to videos outlining “productive” Sunday routines for preparing for the workweek, and—perhaps most troublingly—the tweets from brands such as Starbucks, Mary Kay, and Malibu Rum about warding off the Sunday scaries.
The phrase itself hasn’t been around for very long. Kory Stamper, a lexicographer and author, told me that the first written usage of Sunday scaries she could find after searching around was in a hangover-inspired entry from 2009 on the website Urban Dictionary. Over the course of the 2010s, though, the scaries became less about the consequences of partying than the anticipation of the week ahead. A spokesperson for Twitter told me that use of the phrase has been “growing steadily” on its platform since early 2016, and that 90 percent of tweets that mention it come from people in the U.S.
One advantage of the term is that it is immediately graspable, but at the same time it is almost gratingly infantilizing, expressing genuinely uncomfortable emotions in the language of toddlers. (Multiple people I interviewed for this story disliked the term on these grounds, even as they noted its usefulness.)
“For some reason, we have a great whack of words that sound silly but describe unpleasant feelings or negative emotions: the heebie-jeebies, the screaming meemies, the collywobbles, the jitters, the creeps, a case of the Mondays, boo-hoo,” Stamper says. She notes that some of these terms are playful and sonically repetitive, and wondered if “we like these ameliorating terms because their humor makes it easier to talk about something we would rather not talk about at all.”
The phrase seems even more modern, and even more childish, considering the dangerous outcomes that many American workers used to fear on the job. “There are lots of stories, almost 100 years ago, of people dreading going back to the factory, whether it's injuries or being yelled at,” says Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “It was said that at the Ford Motor Company, the foreman knew how to shout ‘Speed up!’ in 15 languages.” Scaries doesn’t quite do justice to the awful work experiences that many people had back then, and still have today.
Whatever this feeling is called, and whatever economic conditions may be in place right now, people have probably been mourning the end of weekends in one way or another for as long as days off have existed. In the mid-19th century, when Sunday was workers’ only official full day off in England, many of them extended their break by skipping work on Monday, “whether to relax, to recover from drunkenness, or both,” explained Witold Rybczynski in The Atlantic in 1991. This habit, which scans as a symptom of a Sunday scaries–like feeling, was effectively formalized in some industries and was referred to as “keeping Saint Monday.”