What the heck’s an idiom, anyway ?
Idiom 3.) An expression peculiar to or characteristic of a particular language, especially one whose meaning is illogical or separate from the meanings of its component words.
The English language is full of idioms relating to time.
There are at least 100 different idioms or short phrases expressing a point to emphasize time, either relating to time in increments of seconds, minutes, hours, days or unspecified amounts. This blog will be dedicated to exploring various categories of these interesting time-related phrases and their meanings.
Clock & Watch Idioms
Perhaps the most well-known idiom using the word “clock” is “race against the clock.” This idiom was developed around the mid-1900s, used in the world of sports. Usually the phrase is used to refer to athletes running for timed distances or sports where a time-clock is utilized. Another popular clock idiom is “around the clock,” used to refer to something happening or being open 24 hours per day. Restaurants that stay open all hours of the day and night often use this term to informally advertise that fact. One popular song in history used this idiom to imply dancing all night – “Rock Around the Clock,” sung by Bill Haley and His Comets in 1954. “Just like Clockwork” implies the meaning of something happening regularly and always at the same time.
The idiom “not on my watch” is an expression used by people who want to express their disinterest or refusal to be a part of someone’s plan. Similar to this expression is “not on company time,” meaning the same thing; however employers use this expression to let employees know that they are not allowed to do something not work-related while they are at work and being paid to do their job. “Five o’clock shadow” is an idiom which indicates that a man has visible facial stubble. This is another mid-1900s idiom, originally used when men would rise early in the morning and shave. By five o’clock some men, especially those with darker hair, would have a slight shadow-like appearance of stubble.
Hour, Minute & Second Idioms
“The last second,” “the last minute,” “the last hour” and “the eleventh hour” are expressions used to refer to something happening at the latest possible time it could – if a student finished a paper ten minutes before it was due, this expression would be appropriate. “The eleventh hour” dates back at least several centuries, however the other three expressions are more modern. “Hour of need” is an idiom dating back to ancient Israel, first used in the Bible, referring to a person expressing a time of desperate need. Those who wish to indicate that a person is entertaining or comical may say the person is “a laugh a minute“. In recent years, this idiom has also been used by people to display their disgust of another person by implying that their actions are a joke. “Mile a minute” is an expression used to refer to a person who is doing something incredibly fast – usually talking.
One particularly interesting hour-related idiom is “the witching hour,” dating back to ancient days of Fertility and Moon Goddess worship. Originally created by those who practiced witchcraft, the term refers to the strike of midnight when there is a full moon. During this hour it is believed that witches have the most power, also their magic is supposed to be the most effective then. Today the term is commonly misused to refer to any hour between midnight and 3 a.m, often by those who wake up and are unable to go to sleep. The term is commonly intended to imply their feeling of being cursed with sleeplessness. Some popular superstitious beliefs state that waking during the witching hour of 3 a.m is a sign of imminent destruction, danger or trouble.
Idioms including the word “time” are the most common. “Time does sail” means that time passes by quickly and almost unnoticed. “Behind the times” is a centuries-old expression used to refer to a person who has old-fashioned or outdated views – or a functional item that is outdated. “No time like the present” is a way of saying that now is the optimal time to do something important. When a person wants to refer to time seeming to pass quickly during a pleasurable event, they might say “time flies when you’re having fun.” Quite opposite is the expression “time stands still,” referring to time seeming to not pass; usually this phrase is used during an undesirable event or refers to part of a person’s childhood. Unfortunately, there are many time-related idioms that are so general in nature that no one seems to be able to ascertain where they’ve originated.
Of particular interest is the phrase “a stitch in time saves nine.” Popular belief will state that this phrase is related to a tearing of the “fabric” that is the space-time field, but this is not true. The original meaning of this idiom is twofold. “A stitch in time” is an old saying referring to sewing up a small tear in a garment before it widens, thus saving the work of a later mending project. “Saves nine”, the last part of the idiom, is referring to the additional amount of stitches that would be needed to mend a larger hole if the single saving stitch had not been made. Referring to an event other than sewing, the idiom “a stitch in time saves nine” was first quoted and documented by Francis Baily in 1797. He used this wording when referring to finding a method for keeping his boat angled in the middle of the stream, meaning the straightening of the boat spared him of future trouble.
Of course there are many more idioms relating to time that do not include words about timepieces or the actual word “time” – for example, “for whom the bell tolls.” Originating from the words written by John Donne in “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions” in 1624, the phrase was referencing the interconnected relationship between all humans. The phrase was also used as a book title by Ernest Hemingway in 1940. Common use of the idiom is also used to refer to the person for whom a bell is ringing after their death – such as a funeral bell tolling.
People use time idioms nearly every day and are usually unaware of it.
The origin and meaning of some of these simple phrases often yield a very entertaining and educational story.
Have we forgotten to mention a couple time idioms that you use on a regular basis?
Well, in all honesty, there are some other websites that tell us we’re indeed far behind the times with our short list here!
Oh well – we still hope that a good time was had by all. 😉