Famous Sayings #173 — ‘All in a Day’s Work’

December 29, 2019

When I asked Alice how she was able to deal with so many irate customers over the phone, she said it was ‘all in a day’s work.’

The phrase “all in a day’s work” may have nautical origins. Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Kevin S. O’Brien [Public domain]

As 2019 draws to a close, this may be the last Famous Sayings post of the year (unless I can make room for 1-2 more before New Year’s Day, but that will take some doing). That said, here is a fast post that involves a phrase that may be less than 100 years old as of 2019.

What Does ‘All in a Day’s Work’ Mean?

When someone says that something is “all in a day’s work,” that person may be referring to a part of their job that is routine. that aspect of their profession may be pleasant or unpleasant, or otherwise unusual for other people (“ALL IN A DAY’S WORK”). Also, since a task is routine for someone and part of their daily activities, it is relatively easy for them to do, but they may be downplaying the overall difficulty (“definition and synonyms”, Wiktionary).

Sometimes, the expression “all in a day’s work” can be used for humorous purposes. For example, if a task or occurrence is relatively unusually for the person doing/experiencing it, the person speaking is being sarcastically.

When Was This Phrase Coined?

According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer (via The Free Dictionary), the expression may have been inspired by the nautical term “day’s work.” In 1789, the definition for “day’s work” was “the reckoning of a ship’s course during the 24 hours from noon to noon.” In other words, sailors would record their ship’s course from noon to noon, which was a “day’s work” for them (English Language & Usage). This method of navigation is referred to as “Celestial navigation,” by which people will use celestial bodies, like the sun, moon, and stars, and measure angles from those bodies and the horizon to plot their own position on the earth (Celestial navigation).

The expression “all in a day’s work” may have been coined around 1800. However, the use of the expression can be in a text called “Printed Ink,” which was published in 1926 (“What Does”):

Burlington men are of that stamp. For them it was all in a day’s work to run a regular passenger train from Chicago to Denver, 1,000 miles, for 355 days in one year without being late.

This may be the earliest example of the expression in print (“all in a days”).

Is This a Timely Post?

Kind of. When I started writing this post tonight, I had just finished watching a San Francisco 49ers game. This game was important for both teams involved. the 49ers were visiting the Seattle Seahawks in the regular season finale and the winner of the game would win the division and determine the seeding in the NFC (National Football Conference) playoffs. With a win, the 49ers would be the #1 seed, get a first-round bye, and have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. If the Seahawks won, they would be the #3 seed.

The 49ers won, but the game went down to the wire. There have been a few games like that this season, but the Niners have lost a few games at the last second. This time, it took a defensive stop at the goal line on fourth down, plus an extra play for the 49ers offense to run out the clock.

Just before this finish, one of the announces for this Sunday Night Football game (the great Al Michaels) was talking about how the games both these teams played in the 2019 NFL season often went down to the wire. These are “cardiac” games, because fans are on the edge of their seats and their heart rates go up. (This was certainly true for me at the end of this game.) I guess that’s all in a day’s work for these teams, at least for this season.

Works Cited

“all in a day’s work (phrase) definition and synonyms.” MacMillan Dictionary, https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/all-in-a-day-s-work. Accessed 29 December 2019.

“ALL IN A DAY’S WORK.” Cambridge English Dictionary. Cambridge University Press, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/all-in-a-day-s-work. Accessed 29 December 2019.

“All in a day’s work.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex, Inc., https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/all+in+a+day%27s+work. Accessed 29 December 2019.

“all in a days work meaning, definition, examples, origin, synonyms.” The Idioms, https://www.theidioms.com/all-in-a-days-work/. Retrieved 29 December 2019.

Various Authors. “All in a day’s work.” English Language & Usage. Stack Exchange, Inc., Thread Created 22 February 2014, https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/141108/all-in-a-days-work.

Various Authors. “all in a day’s work.” Wiktionary, Updated 14 October 2019, https://www.definitions.net/definition/all%20in%20a%20days%20work. Accessed 29 December 2019.

Various Authors. “Celestial navigation.” Wikipedia, Updated 14 November 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celestial_navigation. Accessed 29 December 2019.“What Does All In a Day’s Work Mean.” Writing Explained, https://writingexplained.org/idiom-dictionary/all-in-a-days-work. Accessed 29 December 2019.


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