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"If it was anxious to go," said Adela Pingsford rather angrily, "I should not have come here to chat with you about it. I'm practically all alone; the housemaid is having her afternoon out and the cook is lying down with an attack of neuralgia. Anything that I may have learned at school or in after life about how to remove a large ox from a small garden seems to have escaped from my memory now

quoted from the stalled ox

What is 'afternoon out'?

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More context would be helpful, but guessing from what you provide: This is an excerpt from a story set sometime before the early 1900s when many households had several servants. Servants were given a certain amount of time or even entire days "off", much like we now have weekends, when they weren't required to do their household duties.

So the housemaid's "afternoon out" was the time given to her to leave the house and do whatever she wanted, presumably from "after noon" until some time later in the day.

By the way, in case it's not clear: Nowadays there is a medical definition of neuralgia that sounds quite serious, but at the time it probably just meant that the cook had a headache.

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  • wouldn't it be better to say her 'afternoon out' was her afternoon off? – Sarriesfan Dec 26 '16 at 16:36
  • You might find Ngram useful for looking up things like this. Apparently the common phrase was "afternoon out" until shortly after this story was written. – Andrew Dec 26 '16 at 16:39
  • yes but in explaining what it means to a English Language Learner, explaining that 'afternoon out' means 'afternoon off' seems relavent. – Sarriesfan Dec 26 '16 at 18:07
  • @Sarriesfan Indeed; and perhaps an explanation that domestic servants lived in the household, so the "afternoon out" was in fact the only time they left the house for their own amusement. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 26 '16 at 19:57
  • @StoneyB what's the use in defining an idiom with another idiom? I already give a perfectly clear definition in the answer. And whether or not that was the servant's only time out of the house seems irrelevant to the question, although of course it's fine as ancillary detail. – Andrew Dec 26 '16 at 20:01

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