The longest government shutdown in U.S. history began on December 22, 2018, when Congress and the White House failed to break an impasse over a spending bill. It is now in its fourth week. An estimated 800,000 federal employees are either working without pay – as in the case of thousands of TSA workers at the nation’s airports – or furloughed: sent home, deprived of paychecks, and forbidden to do any kind of work on behalf of the government. “Furloughed employees have no automatic right to payment,” Eric Reed wrote in The Street on January 14; “however, historically Congress has paid all federal workers for the time they lost during a shutdown.”
This use of furlough to describe an involuntary, uncertain work suspension isn’t new – the OED’s earliest citation is from 1867, in the Bangor (Maine) Daily Whig & Courier – but it isn’t the original sense of the word. And it’s distinctly American.