When I got home and checked the Wordwizard Archive, I found the question had been asked back in August of 2002, but only with the anonymous nasty reply “use the dictionary moron” and no further explanation. Well, thank goodness that those days of moronic incivility are behind us (I assume).
The Merriam-Webster link provided – Etymology: irregular from ‘hey.’ Date: 1672. ‘archaic’ -- used to express elation or wonder. And HEY provided –‘interjection,’ Etymology: Middle English, Date: 13th century-- used especially to call attention or to express interrogation, surprise, or exultation.
It was quite a surprise to me that ‘heyday’ actually derived from our common English interjection ‘hey’ (now also used as a hip greeting instead of ‘hello’). And I was interested in seeing what else I could find.
Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins
HEYDAY goes back to an Anglo-Saxon use of ‘hey’ as an expression of great enthusiasm and happiness [[frolic and exultation, and sometimes of wonder – Webster’s 1913]]. So a person’s ‘heyday’ is the period of his greatest vigor and success.
Ayto’s Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins
HEYDAY [16th century] Etymologically, the ‘-day’ of ‘heyday’ has no connection with the English noun ‘day,’ although it has come to resemble it over the centuries. Nor is ‘hey-‘ related to ‘hay.’ Originally the word was ‘heyda,’ an exclamation roughly equivalent to the modern English ‘hurrah’ [hot diggety!]. Probably it was an extension of ‘hey,’ modeled partly on Low German ‘heida,’ hurrah. Its earliest noun use (first recorded in the 1590s) was in the sense ‘state of exultation’ [[< “The heyday in the blood is tame, it’s humble, And waits upon the judgment.” ‘Hamlet’ Scene IV, Act iii (1600), Shakespeare>]] the influence of the ‘day’-like second syllable did not make itself felt until the mid-18th century, when the modern sense ‘period of great success’ began to emerge.
Contrary to Ayto’s above opinion that the modern sense of ‘heyday’ arrived in the mid-18th century, ‘Webster’s 1828 Dictionary’ provides only the following:
HEYDAY, exclamation. An expression of frolick and exultation, and sometimes of wonder.
HEYDAY, n. A frolick; wildness.
It is also interesting that Webster’s 1913 Dictionary incorrectly gives the probable etymology of the word as coming from the eminently logical ‘high day.’
Ken G – December 28, 2003
Submitted by Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)