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When and where was the phrase olden days coined?

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I think the original (or at least, more widespread) was olden times. But both are now hopelessly archaic, and for some reason more recent 'facetious' usage tends to favour days over times. But I see no prospect of meaningfully identifying a "first coinage" for what were both probably just normal use of language in days of yore, as I would call them when I'm in retro-whimsical mode. – FumbleFingers Aug 16 '11 at 20:17
up vote 3 down vote accepted

According to Google's Books Ngram Viewer, the phrase was coined some time around 1800 and peaked around 1930:


The oldest reference I could find for "olden days" is the 1805 Tobias: a poem : in three parts by Rev. Luke Booker:

olden days

And the oldest I found for "olden times" is Poems on Affairs of State from 1620 to this Present Year 1707, in a poem called "GIGANTOMAXIA, or a full and true Relation of the Great and Bloody Fight between three Pagan Knights and a Christian Giant" by an unknown author and originally published in 1682:

olden times

I suspect these stem from the Romantic era:

Romanticism is a style of art, literature and music in the late 18th and early 19th century in Europe. This movement said that feelings, imagination, nature, and old folk traditions such as legends and fairy tales were important. In part, it was a reaction to the aristocratic social and political ideas of the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. It was also a reaction against turning nature into a mere science. It showed itself most strongly in arts like music, and literature.

Take for example this 1868 poem called The Olden Days.

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In 1600, Early Modern English was still being used. What if it was just spelled differently then? (So as not to show up in that form in the corpus?) – simchona Aug 16 '11 at 20:30
This is probably as good an answer as we'll find, I expect "olden days" is a common enough phrase to be hard to track, as FumbleFingers had mentioned. – Jim Rubenstein Aug 16 '11 at 20:53
@simchona Possible, but I tried a few spellings and didn't hit on anything. I've added in "olden times" which was more popular but follows a similar trend. – Hugo Aug 16 '11 at 20:57
@Hugo cool--I didn't mean to nitpick, but I've made the "if it's not on NGrams, it wasn't invented" mistake – simchona Aug 16 '11 at 21:10
I don't think the nGram is a reliable indicator of the start of usage. It seems to show 1800 merely because that's when the bulk of the corpus starts. – Marthaª Aug 16 '11 at 21:11

The phrase is a good deal older than the other answer suggests. It’s already found (as olden dawes) in Cursor Mundi, specifically, in the ms. Trinity College R.3.8: 'Now com my sawes Þat I seide bi olden dawes'. This entry in the Middle English Dictionary dates that citation to ante 1400 and offers another from ~1426. Before that we find it in Old English 'in olden days', e.g., in the Life of St Æðeldryþ in Ælfric of Eynsham’s Lives of Saints (late 10th century), in Ælfric’s Homilies, and in the charter S 1146 from 1062x66.

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I knew there had to be some older use! (+1ed already) – simchona Aug 17 '11 at 9:28
I suspect the -en ending is an archaic dative, which would be correct with prepositions like in or bi (by). In modern German, the expression "in olden days" still has the same ending: "in alten Tagen". In fact, one of the pages cited by Brian also reports the Old English form "on ealdum dagum", with the original dative ending "-um", which was later reduced to "-en", and finally disappeared in Modern English. – Giorgio Jun 26 '13 at 20:59

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