Q: I don’t hear “common day occurrence” a lot, but the expression does crop up from time to time, and the other day I found myself using it. A friend questioned me and I couldn’t recall where I’d picked it up. Any idea where or when this phrase originated?
A: The expression “common day occurrence” showed up in the late 19th century, probably as a conflation of “common occurrence” and “everyday occurrence,” two more common expressions that mean the same thing.
In fact, we’ve found an even earlier example in The Book of Family Prayer for the United Church of England and Ireland (1856) that uses both “common” and “everyday” together to modify “occurrence”:
“Have we been separated for a time from our families, and has God brought us together in health and safety? and because this is a common every-day occurrence, shall we hesitate to acknowledge in it God’s protecting arm?”
The earliest example we’ve found for “common day occurrence” is from an 1897 British review of On Many Seas: The Life and Exploits of a Yankee Sailor, a memoir by Capt. Frederick Benton Williams:
“To be jailed for mutiny was a common day occurrence, but then mutiny covered a great many offenses” (from the Review of Reviews, a London journal edited by William Thomas Stead).
The expression “everyday occurrence” dates from the early 19th century. The first example we’ve seen is from a May 17, 1819, debate in the House of Commons: “It was well known that, among officers, the sale and exchange of commissions were matters of every day occurrence.”
And the expression “everyday’s occurrence” dates from the early 18th century. The oldest example we’ve found is from Of the Law of Natur and Nations (1729), an English translation by the Oxford scholar Basil Kennett and others of a Latin work by the German political philosopher Samuel Freiherr von Pufendorf:
“It is therefore necessary to appoint certain Magistrates, as Substitutes or Delegates, who, by the Authority of the whole People, may dispatch Business of every Day’s Occurrence.”
The expression “common occurrence” is even older. The oldest example we’ve seen is from God the Author of Reconciliation (1699), by the English Puritan clergyman Stephen Charnock:
“The illustration should, if possible, be a matter of common occurrence, and the more common the occurrence the more sure it will be not to fix attention upon itself, but serve as a medium through which the truth is conveyed. ”
Although the expression “common day occurrence” has been around for a while, it isn’t all that common, as you’ve observed. We’ve found only a couple of hundred examples in Google searches.
And we couldn’t find the expression in the Oxford English Dictionary, an etymological dictionary based on historical evidence, or in any of the standard dictionaries we usually consult.