“On the day”

Not long after I started spending time in London, I noticed the use of a phrase for which there is no precise U.S. equivalent: “on the day.” I know quite well that Americans use those words in that order, but not quite in the same context as in the U.K. I searched the phrase on Google News, and the first page of hits all came from British or Commonwealth sources. Here they are:

  • “These games are often fifty-fifty at best and even the well credentialled teams are vulnerable to a bit of bad luck on the day.” (Australian sports site The Roar)
  • Amongst the star performers on the day were young centre duo Jack Roberts and George Catchpole.” (Bourne [England] Local)
  • “Umpiring is a real team environment, just as playing is. We prepare to perform well, and all that matters is making sure you get it right on the day.” (The Roar, again)
  • “There’s been widespread condemnation from fans and teams alike of Force India, who blocked Manor (previously Marussia, previously Virgin, previously Manor) F1’s return to the grid, based on a half-baked excuse they came up with on the day.” (English Formula 1 site Badger GP)
  • “’Potentially, it’s a very useful tool but its complementary to the main pollsters. It would be feasible to do it on the day [of an election],’ he said.” (The Guardian)

That last one is interesting, because the bracketed insertion represents (to my mind) precisely the American version. That is, we are more explicit, saying  “on the day of [fill in the event],” or “when the day finally arrived,” or “on the day itself.” I have no idea why The Guardian should have felt the need to add “of an election,” other than as a gesture to its increasing number of American online readers.

I bring all this up because the other day I heard Vickie Barker’s very American voice, in an NPR report on London’s “Visit My Mosque” campaign, say these words: “But on the day, the center was packed with visitors sipping tea, nibbling pizza and cake, and eagerly listening to community members like Zahra Khimji describe a typical week there.”

NPR doesn’t provide any information about Ms. Barker, but I found a 2012 interview with her saying she had lived in London “over twenty years.” That makes at least twenty-five now, which is clearly enough time to lead even a Yank journo to say “on the day.”

17 thoughts on ““On the day”

  1. On the day’s cousin is ‘at the end of the day’ which is so beloved of English football pundits and managers (often ex players) who speak almost entirely in cliches. e.g., “Well, for me, at the end of the day, he’s got to hit the target from there.”

    1. American jocks and ex-jocks also tend to speak entirely in clichés. I suspect “student athletes” at American universities take courses that consist solely of cliché-memorization drills.

  2. I must admit that this is such a basic expression that I hadn’t realised it was particularly British.

    There is also the theatrical “It will be all right (or alright) on the night” meaning we still have a few kinks to straighten out but we will be OK come the first performance. There is a long running series on TV of bloopers called It’ll be alright on the Night.

    There’s also the phrase “at the end of the day” meaning finally which had a vogue a few years back. I even saw a report of some politician talking about school teachers saying, “At the end of the day, they all have to go to school in the morning.”

  3. Can never get enough of these NOOB (s) and thank you so very much for your “spot on ” blog. Some time ago I was staying in an area outside of London ..Cricket St Thomas..and there on the large estate was a themed amusement park. Much of the park was devoted to the beloved English children’s character “Mr. Blobby” ..including a look into his home “Dunblobbin” .

    On the day,whilst visiting with Mr Blobby ,I sought out a “loo”. While in said loo I came to overhear a mother encouraging / cheering on a toddler to get down to business ….could not help but “titter” as I heard her saying..Come on,”bottom needs a tiddle”…loved it/ love it! Sheila Cunningham Norton, Ma

    Sent from my iPad


  4. Yes, Dormouse, “at the end of the day” (AmE: “when all is said and done”) and “not to put too fine a point on it” were phrases I picked up some years ago, as they were used constantly in “Yes, Minister” and its sequel, “Yes, Prime Minister,” two of the best Britcoms I’ve ever seen.

  5. ‘on the day’ is not equivalent to ‘at the time’ – because it also includes the concept of a lead-up to whatever has/will happen. You probably wouldn’t say ‘on the day, I won Lotto’ – but you can say ‘despite lack of preparation, if we put in the effort on the day we can still win’.

    Apart from buying the ticket, there’s no preparation period for winning the lottery. Sheila’s example of going to a theme park also has a lead-up – because she travelled there.

  6. The other thing to point out about ‘on the day’ is that it goes forwards and backwards in time. ‘On the day I was able to overcome the opposition’ i.e., when it came to it I was able to win, or ‘Things will work out on the day’, i.e. you’ll be fine when it comes to it. I too hadn’t realised that this was a Britishism.

    ‘At the end of the day’ derives, I believe, from a poetic allusion to the end of a battle. ‘At the end of the day, the Norman forces were victorious at Hastings’, or whatever. Obviously this is from the days when battles tended to be over in a day.

    1. Just replying to myself to add the allusion ‘went the day well?’ from a poem by John Maxwell Evans in 1918, which was then used as a title for a story by Graham Green which was then made into a film in 1942, about what might happen if the Germans invaded Britain.

      1. A great film, but the Greene story on which it was based was called The Lieutenant Died Last. (Cue thread on the American and British pronunciations of “lieutenant”.)

    2. While I definitely agree with you Catherine about forwards and backwards, I think ‘day’ doesn’t just mean 24 hours – it can even mean a lifetime.

    3. I didn’t know it even counted as an expression! I always thought it was just a short version of “on the day of the (event/match/performance etc)”

  7. It’s about preparation, practice or prediction, taking into account upsets that may happen. I think that if you add an unspoken ‘that matters most’ then all ‘on the day’ phrases make perfect sense.

    We planned a water birth, but on the day it happened too fast.

    Polls suggest a Cheese Dream win but we’ll see on the day.

    I passed every mock paper I sat but on the day my nerves took over.

    The groom hadn’t touched alcohol for a fortnight, but on the day…

  8. My favorite use of “one the day” is in “Shaun of the Dead,” when Nick Frost’s character refuses to practice walking like a zombie and says he’ll do it “on the day.”

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