Old English dæg "period during which the sun is above the horizon," also "lifetime, definite time of existence," from Proto-Germanic *dages- "day" (source also of Old Saxon, Middle Dutch, Dutch dag, Old Frisian di, dei, Old High German tag, German Tag, Old Norse dagr, Gothic dags), according to Watkins, from PIE root *agh- "a day." He adds that the Germanic initial d- is "of obscure origin." But Boutkan says it is from PIE root *dhegh- "to burn" (see fever). Not considered to be related to Latin dies (which is from PIE root *dyeu- "to shine").
Meaning originally, in English, "the daylight hours;" it expanded to mean "the 24-hour period" in late Anglo-Saxon times. The day formerly began at sunset, hence Old English Wodnesniht was what we would call "Tuesday night." Names of the weekdays were not regularly capitalized in English until 17c.
From late 12c. as "a time period as distinguished from other time periods." Day-by-day "daily" is from late 14c.; all day "all the time" is from late 14c. Day off "day away from work" is attested from 1883; day-tripper first recorded 1897. The days in nowadays, etc. is a relic of the Old English and Middle English use of the adverbial genitive.
All in a day's work "something unusual taken as routine" is by 1820. The nostalgic those were the days is attested by 1907. That'll be the day, expressing mild doubt following some boast or claim, is by 1941. To call it a day "stop working" is by 1919; earlier call it a half-day (1838). One of these days "at some day in the near future" is from late 15c. One of those days "a day of misfortune" is by 1936.
1951, proprietary name (Dane & Co. of London) for a brand of fluorescent paint. As an adjective, with reference to colors and patterns, by 1959.
"day on which a memorial is made," by 1819, of any anniversary date, especially a religious anniversary; see memorial (adj.). As a specific end-of-May holiday commemorating U.S. war dead, it began informally in the late 1860s and originally commemorated the Northern soldiers killed in the Civil War. It was officially so called by 1869 among veterans' organizations, but Decoration Day also was used. The Grand Army of the Republic, the main veterans' organization in the North, officially designated it Memorial Day by resolution in 1882:
That the Commander-in-Chief be requested to issue a General Order calling the attention of the officers and members of the Grand Army of the Republic, and of the people at large, to the fact that the proper designation of May 30th is Memorial Day and to request that it may be always so called. [Grand Army Blue Book, Philadelphia, 1884]
The South, however, had its own Confederate Memorial Day, and there was some grumbling about the apparent appropriation of the name.
The word "Memorial" was adopted by the Maryland Confederates shortly after the war, and has been generally used throughout the South. It is distinctively Confederate in its origin and use, and I would suggest to all Confederate societies to adhere to it. The Federals' annual day of observance is known as "Decoration Day," having been made so by an act of Congress, and the 30th day of May named as the date. In Maryland there is annually a Decoration Day and a Memorial Day. The two words are expressive not only of the nature of the observance, but also of the people who participate therein. [Confederate Veteran, November 1893]
1910, begun in Spokane, Washington, U.S., but not widespread until 1940s; an imitation of Mother's Day.
"first of May," on which the opening of the season of flowers and fruit formerly was celebrated throughout Europe, mid-13c.; see May + day (n.). May Queen "girl or young woman crowned with flowers and honored as queen at the games held on May Day," seems to be a Victorian re-invented tradition; the phrase Queen of Maij is attested from c. 1500.
May Day's association with communism (and socialism and anarchism) dates to 1890. A U.S. general strike for an eight-hour workday began May 1, 1886, and culminated in the Haymarket bombing affair in Chicago on May 4. By 1890 strikes, protests, and rallies were being held in Europe by socialist and labor organizations on May 1, at first in support of the eight-hour day, more or less in commemoration of the 1886 strike.
day set aside in U.S. "for planting forest trees to make lumber for the generations yet to come" ["Congressional Record," June 1892], first celebrated April 10, 1872, in Nebraska (a largely treeless state), the brainchild of U.S. agriculturalist and journalist J. Sterling Morton (1832-1902). From Latin arbor, arboris "tree" (see arbor (n.2)).