Having a Field Day

Having a time of great success or achievement.

This is a pretty common phrase in English, but what does success have to do with fields? (apart of course from the farmer who was outstanding in his field)

Well it doesn’t really have that much to do with fields.

Not fields in the farm sense anyway. The term is a military one, from at least the middle of the 18th century. It referred to a day spent practising field maneouvres (like war games) or parading, both of which would take place in large open areas. Like fields. These days were considered much easier and more enjoyable than soldiers’ usual routines of difficult exercises. And presumably much much easier than actually being in a war with people trying to kill you.

As always happens when a phrase serves a useful general function, it soon moved beyond the military sphere. Like campaign, which we saw before also had a more strictly military use.

Going back to that awful/awesome outstanding-in-his-field joke though: isn’t it interesting that we use field in this way, to refer to our area of interest or knowledge? There’s no great story about how this came about: it’s simply another case of how we naturally tend to imagine abstractions in spatial terms. When we think about our area of interest we imagine lots of different aspects all spread out across a space. This important part is here in the middle, but there are also these parts here off to the side, this one near the top, and this one at the bottom. There’s nothing revolutionary about this: it’s hard not to visualise abstractions, and it makes sense to picture them in terms of the world around us. So we imagine a field. Or an area, as in area of interest.

Where was I again? Oh yeah, field day! Have a field day with this knowledge!

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