Take a Word.... Clock: Etymology, History, Idioms & Phrases + 'Dandelion', a Short Story
Clock the Time!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Where does 'clock' come from?
Origin of ‘clock’:
a late Middle English word, from Middle Dutch & Middle Low German ‘klocke’, based on Mediaeval Latin ‘clocca’ (bell)
etymonline.com adds a little extra:
‘from Old North French ‘cloque’ (modern French ‘cloche’) from Mediaeval Latin, ‘clocca’ meaning bell,’
(and the most interesting part for me…) ‘probably from Celtic (compare Old Irish ‘clocc’, Welsh ‘cloch’, Manx ‘clagg’, a bell) and spread from Irish missionaries (unless the Celtic words are from Latin); ultimately of imitative origin.’
It replaced the Old English ‘daegmael’, from ‘daeg’ (day) and ‘mael’ (measure or mark).
Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock… the relentless countdown of our lives. Time flies. Sounds depressing doesn’t it? Well, we don’t have to watch the clock if we don’t want to. However, we can have a look at the interesting ways we use the word ‘clock’.
Old Father Time comes in different guises; timepiece, watch, stop-watch, fob-watch, timekeeper, chronograph, grandfather clock, grandmother clock (a little smaller) and the common or garden ‘clock’, though the ones in the garden are usually known as sun-dials. A possibly unwelcome guest in the garden can also be a clock; do you know what I'm talking about?
'Clock' might be a common word but that doesn’t make it boring; there are idioms built around the word that make it more interesting.
Old Father Time, known as Chronos (Greek) or Chronus (Latin), is the personification of time. The word itself means ‘time’ and is the root of ‘chronology’. Apparently, it was originally used merely in a poetic sense as there is no God or Goddess directly associated with time itself.
Lord’s Cricket Ground, the home of the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club), the world’s most famous cricket club, has a weather-vane picturing Old Father Time appearing as the Grim Reaper, Death personified; he is removing the bales from the cricket-stumps, presumably meaning it’s the end of your innings, your time’s up, be it the game of cricket or the game of life!
Old Father Time
- a mechanical or electrical device for measuring time, indicating hours, minutes and
- sometimes seconds by hands on a round dial or by displayed figures
- time taken as a factor in an activity, especially in competitive sports
- (informal) a measuring device such as a speedometer, taxi-meter or millimetre
- (computing) an electronic device used to initiate and synchronise internal operations
- (British) a downy spherical seed head, especially that of a dandelion
- attain or register (a specified time, distance or speed)
- achieve (a victory)
clock (noun) - this second meaning was a surprise to me as I didn’t know of its existence
- an ornamental pattern woven or embroidered on the side of a stocking or sock near the ankle (mid 16th century, of unknown origin)
(etymonline.com says that the ‘ornament pattern on a stocking’ comes from the 1520s, probably identical with ‘clock’ in its older sense and meaning ‘bell-shaped ornament’.
Can you think of any 'clock' idioms?
Enough of the technical stuff, let’s get on with the entertainment. Having read the above, your memory has probably been jogged regarding a few phrases involving ‘clock’.
I’d like to visit a few by way of a short story.
Jill was fed up with her older sister; Ruth rarely wanted to play with her anymore. If only she could turn back the clock to when they both raced across the fields, climbed knee-grazing trees, explored the dusky bluebell woods until teatime at five o’clock sharp.
These days, Ruth was with her boy friend just about around the clock. Jill didn’t like him much, mostly because he’d robbed her of her best friend, and she said unkind things,
“He’s got a face that would stop a clock.” Ruth would glare at her and walk away.
Of course Jill had her friends but they didn’t live close enough to call on a whim so she spent more time on her own, still out across those fields but it wasn’t the same.
How she’d loved it when they dashed round the corn stooks, playing catch-me-if-you-can or to see who could clock the best time! What fun to be the first to clock the tractor and then race it to the gate. The day their father had driven the new car into the field and clocked up 50 miles an hour over the moguls of grass, they squealed with delight and bet him he couldn’t race against the clock to get home by the road before they reached the back gate from the field. They won of course. Dad must have clocked up a fair few miles ‘racing’ the girls!
He worked at the factory in town, had to clock in at eight every morning and wasn’t allowed to clock off before seven o’clock at night. The weekend was heaven; he could spend time with his girls with no need to watch the clock at all.
What's the time?
Who needs a watch!
He taught them both many things, including how to tell the time without a watch. “Just ask the dandelion,” he said.
“How, Daddy? A dandelion can’t talk and it certainly can’t tell the time,” the four year-old Jill was adamant.
“Oh but it can talk; it knows the secret that blows in the wind. Watch!” Dad picked a seeded dandelion from the grass. “Dandelion, dandelion, tell me the time.” He held the clock close to his face and blew. A few seeds dispersed on the wind. “One o’clock,” he said. He puffed a few more times and as each spindle of seeds whirled up and away, he added an hour, until the stalk was sad and bare.
“See, it’s four o’clock! Nearly time for tea.”
“Hooray!” the girls would shout. “Race you to the gate!”
“Bet you can’t do it in five minutes,” he yelled, “The clock’s ticking…”
Alone on the Bridge
One weekend found Jill standing on the wooden bridge over the stream, watching the Autumn leaves and twigs sailing beneath. She saw a car on the road beyond the hedge, clocking on at a tremendous rate; she heard a screech of brakes, a thud and then a cloud of smoke and steam. She raced home.
When she clocked her mother’s face, she knew something was wrong.
“Dad’s been hurt. He was going a bit too fast down the lane and he slid into the ditch. He clocked his head on the steering wheel and he’s got to go to hospital.” Mum tried to put on a brave face but you could tell she was worried sick.
Jill saw her sister coming home. Ruth had a smile for her that day.
“Come on, you,” she said, “Let’s go over the fields. Race you to the dandelion clocks!”
Jill beamed. Side by side they zig-zagged into the wind, arms outstretched, hair whipping the air. Puffed out, they sank to their knees, each grabbed a dandelion and blew.
“One, two, three, four, five! Oh, quick, we’ll be late for tea!” They laughed and ran but there was no Dad to race that day.
Bridge with a view
Would he remember?
After all the worry, Dad had suffered only a slight concussion, his head was bandaged for a while and he’d be back at work after the weekend.
On the Sunday, the girls told him about going out to the dandelions the day he’d crashed. He said to his girls, “But dandelions can’t tell the time! Where did you get that idea from?”
Jill frowned, “How could you forget that, Daddy?” Her eyes had started to mist over. Then she saw the twinkle in his and they all shouted,
“They know the secret that blows in the wind!”
A few more phrases
‘beat the clock’ - finish before the allowed time
‘clock up’ - record or add up
‘the car was clocked’ - the mileage on a car was turned back, illegally
‘biological clock’ - of a woman whose body is telling her it’s time to have a baby before it’s too late, or simply referring to getting old
‘ship’s clock’ - literally, the clock on a ship, but divided into eight 'watches', as was the sailors' time when they were 'on watch'
A little history
‘face that would stop a clock’ means ‘very ugly’ - from 1886
‘put the clock back’ means ‘to return to an earlier state or system’ - from 1862
‘round the clock’ is a reference to air raids - from 1943, when they happened day and night
‘he clocked him’ means ‘hit him’, on the head - like a striking clock, hitting - from 1941, originally Australian, probably from earlier slang ‘clock’ meaning ‘face’.
Watch it! or 'Clock it!'
(from wikipedia) The majestic Grandfather Clock is also known as a longcase clock, tall-case clock and floor clock. It is freestanding, can be 6 to 8 feet tall and is a weight-driven, pendulum clock; the pendulum is inside the 'tower' of the clock, in other words in the case below the face.
Elaborate patterns or carvings are often added around the clock face, or dial, as well as some embellishment on the lower parts. William Clement, an English clockmaker, developed this form of clock in 1670. Right up to the early 20th century, pendulum clocks were the world's most accurate timekeeping technology. They were accurate and therefore were used to set the time for households and businesses. Nowadays they are regarded more often as a decorative object, many having a considerable antique value.
Many a grandfather clock has been known to stop when its owner died, like the song, "never to go again when the old man died." Funny how that happens; Old Father Time again!
We have to watch the clock sometimes, to arrive on time, to keep an important appointment, to set our alarms so that we don't oversleep.
Some of us don't need to worry so much, we retirees who can please ourselves as to when we go about our daily chores or what we decide to do at any time of day.
However, our body clocks are still ticking. The ageing process is uncheckable, the clock marches on.
So don't waste time watching the clock; go out and beat it!
Have you ever used a dandelion to tell the time?
Do you possess a Grandfather Clock?
© 2015 Ann Carr