Mighty Red Pen

April 9, 2007

Mighty red-letter day

Filed under: Word wars — mighty red pen @ 12:04 pm

We have a colleague who has red-sweater days, which led Moondog to wonder what the origin of the expression red-letter day was.

According to the Mavens:

The expression comes from the long-established practice of using red ink to indicate holy days in ecclesiastical calendars. A red-letter day–literally a day written in red letters–was a holy day, or church festival, and thus came to mean ‘any memorable or happy day’.

So a red-letter day is a good one. Unless you’re Hester Prynne, I guess.




  1. Just further information…

    The First Council of Nicea (~325 CE) set the basic Christian Calendar. It wasn’t, however, until the publication of the first Book of Common Prayer in ~1549 CE that the calendar itself had red letters to designate particular holy holidays.

    There was, however, a tradition of highlighting special portions of a manuscript in red — hence the term ‘rubric.’

    (Were you fishing for my comments with this entry?)

    Comment by David — April 9, 2007 @ 3:19 pm | Reply

  2. Yes, David, MRP is all about taunting you.

    Comment by mightyredpen — April 11, 2007 @ 3:21 pm | Reply

  3. I suspected as much.

    Comment by David — April 12, 2007 @ 2:20 pm | Reply

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