In Prelude by Katherine Mansfield, a character says:

The worst is over already. The servant girl and I have simply slaved all day, and ever since mother came she has worked like a horse, too. We have never sat down for a moment. We have had a day.

My question concerns the use of 'a day' in the last sentence, where it seemingly refers to a 'full, busy, tiring day'.

I saw related topics here:

What does “a day's work” mean?

“Call it a day” — is it positive?

but in those cases, 'a day' is meaningful even if it's used neutrally and doesn't refer to a full and busy day.

In the above example, however, a neutral interpretation makes the sentence inconsequential, so it seems explicitly to refer to a long and tiring day.

Is 'a day' as used by this author to apparently mean 'a full, busy, tiring day' a typical English expression or an example of archaic / regional usage?

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    Yes, in the context above, it means a full and busy day, but that meaning is created by that context, not vice versa. Similar usages are still current; "what a week I've had!" (referring more to hardship than effort) and so on. – Dan Bron Jun 23 '17 at 11:18
  • Thanks. In your example, the 'what a ...!' structure already signals something out of the ordinary, even if the word 'week' carries no added meaning. In contrast, 'We have had a day' seems very lacklustre if one accepts 'a day' at face value. – Bepe Jun 23 '17 at 11:27
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    There is nothing archaic, regional, or indeed English about any of this. You would still have the exact same question if the quote were translated word-for-word into Russian or Japanese. I fail to see how this is a question for this site. It really is about reading comprehension. – RegDwigнt Jun 23 '17 at 12:46
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    RegDwight, I am asking about the use / meaning of 'a day' (see the title of my question). The text quoted contains one instance of it, in the last sentence: We have had a day. The rest is context. I don't understand what you are getting at when you mention word-for-word translation into Japanese, reading comprehension, or that there is nothing English (???) about any of this. – Bepe Jun 23 '17 at 14:28
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    This question is clear enough for me and I see no reason to put on hold as unclear, but I have edited this question to improve its clarity mainly by re-stating the title (which is then repeated in the closing statement) so @RegDwigHt might consider voting to reopen. – English Student Jun 23 '17 at 19:17

I don't think "We have had a day." on its own says anything (good or bad) about the day (in fact, it doesn't really make sense in isolation).

However, in my mind (Br.Eng) there was almost an unwritten: "We have had a day of it." on the end, where "it" would refer to the never-ending work and general unpleasantness of it all mentioned in the earlier sentences. As such, the negative connotations come primarily from the context.

Contrast with "What a day we've had." which can stand on its own and does imply a non-neutral experience (although it could stand for both "What a fantastic day we've had." or "What a dreadful day we've had.").

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I grew up in the midwestern U.S. and have lived in the South most of my adult life. The language, "I've had a day" and any derivative of it is colloquial in both areas and always means the day was eventful in some positive or negative way for the individual. A more formal statement would be something like "I've had quite a day." Change the article to that sentence--"I've had quite the day"-- and it becomes colloquial again.

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Yes, this sounds like many a conversation in my house........"Now that was a DAY" or "What a DAY" or "We had a DAY today" is common statement at my table and was when I lived in my parent's house s well. In all cases, the reference is to a FULL or BUSY and is some cases a STRESSFUL day.

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This usage is present in the American South, so it's not regional. I would call it restatement rather than understatement. The author has already pointed out that the work has gone on all day. It's a summing up of the foregoing paragraph, an emphatic. It's significant that it appears at the end, but it could function in the same way at the beginning, and it could appear multiple times in a longer passage. The confusion stems from parsing too finely, since this one sentence doesn't contribute any new information.

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  • How does its use in a region preclude the possibility that it's regional? Do you know of it outside the American South? – Dan Bron Jun 28 '17 at 20:05

I think it's an archaic/regional expression but one that most native English speakers would probably understand in the appropriate context. Generally speaking it would be used with some kind of emphasis either in tone of voice or in the way it was phrased. "What a day!" would be a more common way of expressing something similar, or, here in the UK at least, people might say "that was a day and a half!".

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