- A period of time (a day or hours) set aside for cleaning.
Probably during or shortly after World War I.
A classic military term that has the complete opposite meaning when compared to civilian life. You probably had a field day when you were in school that involved going outside and playing games out in the sunshine with friends and teachers. In contrast, for sailors and Marines, it means time spent cleaning and maintaining things. Scrubbing decks, painting, shining brightwork, cleaning the head, etc. All such wonderful and joyful activities encompass what can be done during a field day, all in the pursuit of perfection, and a likely upcoming inspection. It’s another way of the service reminding you of what you’re missing out on in civilian life because having fun is anathema to a strictly regimented lifestyle.
Actually, I didn’t always mind field day because it’s just mindless cleaning that doesn’t require a tremendous amount of brain power. You just spend time making things look nice, neat, and squared away. Field day also serves the purpose of keeping things sanitary because disease spreads fast on a ship or in a barracks. Additionally, it also serves the purpose of instilling some self-discipline. Sadly in America, we’re brought up in a society where we think the janitor will clean up our messes, but field day teaches young sailors the value of picking up after yourself! The cleaner you keep things, the less work you’ll have to do come field day.
Rogers, J.G. (1985). Origins of Sea Terms. Mystic Seaport.