Sunday, December 4, 2011


I just came across the phrase "in their heyday" yesterday somewhere or other. Normally, it's the kind of thing I just pass by, as I know what it means, more or less. It's sort of "at the height or zenith of one's fame or wealth or skills". Something like that. It usually if not always refers to some glory days that have since passed.

But I really have no idea where the word comes from or even if I do actually have the definition strictly correct. I'm a bit tired of talking turkey for now, so let's see where this one heads.


Well, this is the kind of thing that I find interesting. The original expression has nothing to do with days, apparently, but rather goes back to an expression from Middle English, heyda, which was an exclamation of playfulness or surprise, an extension of 'hey'. Heyda!--a bit like Hurrah! or Huzzah! This was back in the 1500s, and it wasn't until around the 1700s that it somehow got conflated with the word "day" and began to be used to describe the period of greatest vigor.

And here I was, thinking it had something to do with haymaking.

The Online Etymology dictionary notes that in Latin, hei was a cry of grief or fear, but heia was an "interjection denoting joy". Interesting what one little vowel sound will do.

Since this post is a bit shorter than my usual rambling, I'll put in a plug for a very nice little publisher out here on the West Coast, called Heyday Books , which does some good and sometimes very beautiful books on California and the West. I know of them partly because it's one of my jobs in the bookstore I work in to order backlist titles from them, but also because they have published a couple of really nicely made books by the late James D. Houston. Houston was probably best known for his novel Continental Drift, or perhaps the book he co-authored with his wife Jeanne Watasuki Houston, Farewell to Manzanar, which described her family's experiences in a Japanese interment camp.

Before he died, Heyday published a collection of essays he wrote on his sense of place, Where Light Takes Its Color From the Sea, which enjoyed quite a bit of success locally, and one that they've published posthumously, called A Queen's Journey, which is an unfinished novel about Liliuokalani, the last queen of Hawaii.

Heyda, Heyday! Heyda, James Houston!

(I just realized that I forgot to say why all the focus on James Houston in particular. It's because he was a Santa Cruz resident, a friend of the local bookstores, and really a pretty terrific person.)


  1. When I was a kid I did a lot of hay bailing and I can testify that hay days are not heydays.

  2. Thanks for the first hand witness.

    I guess I would have thought, if I thought at all, that it was when hay bailing was done that the heyday began.

  3. Ahh...a logophile like me..hmm i bailed hay for a few hours in the states and by gum (where does that come from??) if i didnt develop an allergic reaction to it...
    i like the heyda reference, but am interested particularly in salad days...was that a good time? iceberg lettuce and mooshy tomatoes together a happy time do not make...
    i ramble though...these books look kinda interesting ;)

  4. I'm not sure that I'm actually a logophile, though I welcome any such that happen along here. It's pretty obvious to me that I haven't been paying enough attention to words all these years to put myself in this category. The main idea behind this blog is to catch myself in my own ignorance, which is not always that easy to do, despite the fact that it's a field with plenty of scope. So often I realize it's a word I've been using without really understanding it, but there are plenty of other categories that I can and occasionally even do look into.

    As for 'salad days', I thought I did know the idea behind this phrase. I remember thinking when I was a kid that salad days meant when someone struggling in the arts came into money--salad being slang for the green stuff. But then I thought I learned that it actually meant that period in a career when you were starving and struggling and had to subsist on salad. And that's pretty much where it has stood. But in fact, I was wrong again. I could do a blog post about this, but it seems to me that Snopes has gotten to the answer pretty well already.

  5. jeepers...and heres me thinkin salad was invented in the 50's or something like that 'just so i can watch my weight'
    i got a lot of learning to learn about things that need learning :)

  6. As do we all, Dan. Well, almost all of us, anyway.