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The meaning and origin of the expression: Field day

Field day

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Field day'?

A day of excitement or a circumstance of opportunity.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Field day'?

The term 'field day'was first used by the military. Their literal sense of the term, that is, a day spent in field manoeuvres, is now little used.

Field dayThe first reference we have for that meaning is from the London newspaper The Daily Journal, September, 1723:

Yesterday was Field Day for the Horse in Hide-Park, when one of the four Troops of Guards pass'd in Review there before the several Officers of their own Corps.

A more specifically military reference comes from a little later, in The Edinburgh Advertiser, May 1776:

"The officers, on a general field day, instead of commanding, are obliged to coax them [the soldiery] to go through their different manoeuvers."

'Field day' was a commonly used term in the military throughout the rest of the 18th century. During the 19th century it began to be extended to refer to any event that might happen in a field; for example:

Hunting: "Sometimes a dance (though rarely on field days, For then the gentlemen were rather tired)." - Lord Byron, Don Juan, 1823.

Scientific expeditions: "We had a delightful field-day in the abbey." - Sir George Gilbert Scott Recollections, 1878.

Around that time the term also began to be used for any exciting or welcome event, as in Thomas Creevey's Letters, 1827:

"Saturday was a considerable field day in Arlington Street, ... and a very merry jolly dinner and evening we had."

We spend less time in fields now than before and during the 20th century the term was further extended to include opportunity as well as enjoyment; for example, 'Clergyman found drunk in nightclub - the tabloids will have a field day with that'.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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