OK, you’ve hit your limit: No more ‘having a field day…’

Some folks having an actual field day about a century ago.

Some folks having an actual field day about a century ago.

You ever suddenly hit a wall in terms of your ability to tolerate trite, overused expressions?

I do.

For instance, this morning that moment arrived for “have a field day.”

A woman on NPR was talking about all the complex junk thrown into the Republicans’ tax bill at the last minute. She started to say that in the coming months, tax lawyers would… and suddenly, driving the old Volvo over the Jarvis Klapman bridge, I’m thinking Don’t say “have a field day;” please, just spare me… and she completed the sentence with “have a field day,” as everyone listening knew she would. Once a sentence such as that one has gathered speed, there’s no avoiding the inevitable.

Perhaps you’re not tired of it. Perhaps I’ve reached my threshold because of the way it’s overused in reference to journalists, as in “The press will have a field day.” (Which it tiresome, but not as tiresome as non-journalists saying something is “splashed all over the front page” when it simply appears, quite soberly and modestly, on the page in question.)

But think about it: How much sense does this expression make to begin with? A “field day” is:

a : a day for military exercises or maneuvers
b : an outdoor meeting or social gathering
c : a day of sports and athletic competition

And usually, it means the last of the three.

What does that have to do with what tax lawyers will be doing with this mess of a bill? Nothing, really.

So it was kind of a stupid expression the first time it was used to mean “to gain advantage or success from a situation, esp. one that is bad for someone else.” (Which doesn’t, let’s face it, really quite describe what people are doing when they “have a field day.” They mean something more like “have themselves a time with it,” or “go hog-wild with it,” or some other hoary expression that doesn’t irritate me quite as much — yet.)

And at this point, it is far beyond useful. So let’s have no more of this nonsense…

Another popular field-day activity.

Another popular field-day activity.

9 thoughts on “OK, you’ve hit your limit: No more ‘having a field day…’

  1. Norm

    You seem unrestrained in expressing your disdain for the not-to-be mentioned phrase; perhaps even running amok with your criticism.

  2. Norm

    I took second place in the basketball free-throw contest and first in the 100-yard dash in the Inaugural Field day activities at Palominas Elementary School in 1974.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      In which case I think it’s totally OK for you to say you had a Field Day, as long as you restrict the phrase to your activities on that day in 1974.

      One of the great athletic accomplishments of my life (which, if you put them all together in a book and described them in excruciating detail, wouldn’t even qualify as a pamphlet) was in P.E. when I was a junior in high school in Tampa, Fla.

      I had the greatest distance in my period — which included about three classes, or about 100 guys — in the standing broad jump. I jumped 8 feet and 3 or 4 inches.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Although, to tell on myself… as I typed that I started remembering something. I think most boys in that time and place finished their P.E. requirement in 10th grade. I had not taken it in 10th, and took it in the 11th instead, making me a year older than most of the guys.

        Most, but not all. There were these two brothers, whom I will not name because they might read this, who were rumored to be soldiers in the local Tampa mafia. I don’t know how old they were, but they could have passed for about 25.

        When we did wrestling, the two brothers had to wrestle each other, because everyone else was afraid of them.

        Not me, of course, but they weren’t in my weight class, you see…

  3. Sally

    The two most annoying, overused media phrases are “unpack” and “kick the can down the road.” I wonder what was the origin of that last phrase.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m pretty sure it comes from the act of actually kicking a can down the road: It makes a bunch of noise, and accomplishes nothing — if you keep walking, you’re just going to have it lying there in front of you again.

      For that reason, I think it’s FAR superior to “having a field day,” in that it’s more descriptive — it is used to describe situations in which one avoids dealing with something, and just delays the reckoning to a later time.

      But perhaps it IS overused…

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