Entries linking to adays
prefix or inseparable particle, a relic of various Germanic and Latin elements.
In words derived from Old English, it commonly represents Old English an "on, in, into" (see on (prep.)), as in alive, above, asleep, aback, abroad, afoot, ashore, ahead, abed, aside, obsolete arank "in rank and file," etc., forming adjectives and adverbs from nouns, with the notion "in, at; engaged in." In this use it is identical to a (2).
It also can represent Middle English of (prep.) "off, from," as in anew, afresh, akin, abreast. Or it can be a reduced form of the Old English past participle prefix ge-, as in aware.
Or it can be the Old English intensive a-, originally ar- (cognate with German er- and probably implying originally "motion away from"), as in abide, arise, awake, ashamed, marking a verb as momentary, a single event. Such words sometimes were refashioned in early modern English as though the prefix were Latin (accursed, allay, affright are examples).
In words from Romanic languages, often it represents reduced forms of Latin ad "to, toward; for" (see ad-), or ab "from, away, off" (see ab-); both of which by about 7c. had been reduced to a in the ancestor of Old French. In a few cases it represents Latin ex.
[I]t naturally happened that all these a- prefixes were at length confusedly lumped together in idea, and the resultant a- looked upon as vaguely intensive, rhetorical, euphonic, or even archaic, and wholly otiose. [OED]
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.