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Take a Word.... Clock: Etymology, History, Idioms and Phrases + 'Dandelion', a Short Story

Updated on September 12, 2018
annart profile image

Ann likes to research the history of words, to experiment with them and to encourage others to use fresh words and idioms.


Origin of ‘clock’:

a late Middle English word, from Middle Dutch & Middle Low German ‘klocke’, based on Mediaeval Latin ‘clocca’ (bell)


‘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).

Clock the Time!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Not a grandfather clock but my Granddad's clock!The key winds it up, the hammer strikes and the clock chimes.
Not a grandfather clock but my Granddad's clock!
Not a grandfather clock but my Granddad's clock! | Source
The key winds it up, the hammer strikes and the clock chimes.
The key winds it up, the hammer strikes and the clock chimes. | Source

Tempus Fugit

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

End of the Innings
End of the Innings | Source


clock (noun)

  • 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) probably identical with ‘clock’ in its older sense and meaning ‘bell-shaped ornament’.

Clock Sock

Decoration on the ankle or up the side of a sock was high fashion in the 16th century!
Decoration on the ankle or up the side of a sock was high fashion in the 16th century! | Source

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.

Dandelion Clock

Taraxacum Officinale Seed
Taraxacum Officinale Seed | Source


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?

One o'clock...  two.... three.....
One o'clock... two.... three..... | Source

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

Wooden Bridge
Wooden Bridge | Source

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!'

A Wrist Clock!
A Wrist Clock! | Source
Ship's Clock
Ship's Clock

Grandfather Clock

(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!

Stop Clock-Watching!

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!

Your Childhood

Have you ever used a dandelion to tell the time?

See results

Grandfather Clocks

Do you possess a Grandfather Clock?

See results

© 2015 Ann Carr


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    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      rosaann: Glad you enjoyed it.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thanks for great article.

      In my opinion, a watch is a lifetime investment,and they offer something unique with each piece. Leather strap or metal, analog or digital,the combinations are flexible I wear mine all the time, I never remove it. In fact, it wouldn't be a long shot to say I feel crippled without it.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Peggy, glad you liked this. Yes I had great fun compiling it - one reference sparks another and so it continues!

      I had to turn the chimes off my Granddad's clock too; great during the day but not at night.

      Thank you for your visit.


    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I have an old chiming clock from my family but do not let it run because I am a light sleeper. This was most interesting and I learned a few things from reading it. I never knew a dandelion head when gone to seed was considered a clock...nor the sock reference. You had some fun writing your little story using all the clock, clocked, etc. words. It was also fun to read.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Thanks teaches! Great to have a reliable clock and they're like an old friend, aren't they? Thanks for reading and your interesting input.


    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      4 years ago

      I love clocks and have several around my home. My favorite is the grandfather clock in our front foyer. It's over 35 years old now and still chimes on the hour. Thank you for the interesting read on clocks. Very well done!

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Gypsy Rose Lee: Thank you for your kind comment. Yes, grandfather clocks have a certain charm; trouble is, they need a fair amount of room!

      Good to see you.


    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      4 years ago from Daytona Beach, Florida

      A wonderful, interesting and fascinating hub. Enjoyed this. I have always wanted to have a grandfather clock.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Flourish! I'm happy when someone comes up with some more though when it's an obvious one I do kick myself. Glad you learned some new ones; that's my teacher side satisfied!

      Hope you're having a great weekend.


    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      You are so thorough that I can never come up with any that you have missed! You've even taught me some I didn't know. Well done!

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Mike; I liked your joke! Much appreciate your support and kind words.


    • mckbirdbks profile image


      4 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Ann. Where does the time go. What an interesting history. Chronus from the Latin and Timex is from? (bad joke.)

      You put so much energy into your presentations. I may have said that before.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Well, thank you, Kim! What a lovely thing to say! I'm so glad you enjoyed this. It was fun to do and ended up longer than anticipated!


    • ocfireflies profile image


      4 years ago from North Carolina


      I must agree with Bill. This hub is a genius work of art that will stand the test of time. Smiles.



    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Venkatachari M: Thank you for your kind comments. I'm glad you enjoyed this; the next in the series will be along shortly!


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Hello Alan. Yes, I mentioned 'clocking up the miles' in the first part of the story. The subject of John Harrison and his chronometer is a fascinating one; I saw the film and I've read a fair bit about it too. We are indebted to those who invented such devices over the years. Harrison's machine was revolutionary for shipping and changed history.

      Thanks for the comment.


    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      4 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Ann, you clocked us with your, this, wonderful piece. The Dandelion story also is very nice. Your creativity is so great always.

      Thanks for presenting these beautiful series. Waiting for your next one.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Another expression, 'clocking up the miles' when you undertake a long journey.

      Another time-keeper: chronometer, devised by Yorkshire clockmaker John Harrison who we have to thank for recording Longitude (see the book by that name written by Dava Sobel). His achievement was in having two clocks on board ship to the West Indies that kept time, one set at GMT, the other at local (ship) time. By using both clocks he worked out how far west the ship had sailed. The Admiralty never fully paid him. The book was made into a film with Michael Gambon as Harrison and Jeremy Irons as a modern-day researcher working on the story. Paperback published 1998 by Fourth Estate, ISBN 1-84115-317-6. Enjoy the read.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Hi Alan! Yes, clock and face are closely connected, for obvious reasons I suppose. Also the meaning of looking at something. Local expressions can be fascinating; I haven't come across any West Country ones but maybe there are.

      Thanks for the comments. Good to see you.


    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello again Ann. There must be some phrases with local colour down in the west connected with clocks.

      One fairly widespread expression, 'Look at that clock' or 'What a clock!' means look at somebody's face, something akin to 'a face that would stop a clock'.

      'Klokke' (pron. 'clogge') comes up in Danish as well, as in e.g. 'Klokken syv', 'seven o'clock', literally 'seven of the clock'.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Ruby. There are many words that are two in British English and one in American English; 'teatime' can be either one here or even tea-time. Such a choice! I had the dreaded Editbot in mind when I decided on the one word version.

      Glad you like this, especially 'hair whipping the air" because I changed that at the last minute LOL.


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Perspycacious: Thank you very much; glad it was a fun read. I had fun writing it.


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, manatita, for your kind comments. No Big Ben as it's only a clock, rather than incorporated into a phrase. I know grandfather clock isn't either, but it is a lot older!


    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This was a delight to read! I liked this, " Hair whipping the air. " You have a special way of using words. I didn't know teatime was one word.( I looked it up.) lol. I would love to own a grandfather clock. Great hub.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 

      4 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Ahh, Ann, the tried and true commenters have rallied round the clock to acknowledge your craftiness. Most clocks are always tick, tock, talking.

      A fun read. My three-minutes egg timer just flows though.

    • manatita44 profile image


      4 years ago from london

      Lots of clocks, Ann. Another interesting read. No Big Ben?

      I think Bill sums it up. Those kind of Hubs are not easy to write. I might have mentioned this in the previous one. Craftily written, not as in clever, which is 'cool', but as in a masterly job. Excellent!!

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Frank! Yes, the seconds ticking away do send shivers down my spine too. Sorry to scare you but I'm glad you found the rest of it enjoyable!


    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      4 years ago from Shelton

      You know the very first line of this hub is frightening.. and I'll tell you why. Because it is so true.. the ticking down of ones mortality can send shivers.. after that initial charge.. the hub becomes a world unto its own.. Love it.. and love how you play the words awesome :)

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, Devika, for your kind words. Good to see you today! It's time I looked at some of your work and I see you've just published so will have a read.


    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A lovely hub from you as always. I like the way you presented and informed us.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      whonu: Thank you very much for your kind words. It did take time(!), more than I expected actually. Thanks for reading today.


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, John, for your wonderful compliment about the series. Sorry about the poem; I'm trying to do story or poem depending on how each word lends itself. The next one will be a poem, just for you! I always appreciate your loyalty and support.


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Hi Mel! Hope you got home on time!

      Thanks for your kind comments. Yes, it is strange how idioms differ but that's what makes the world go round and that's what I find fascinating.

      I gather that dandelion clock is a specifically British term too; it's part of my childhood and I still do it even if I'm not with the grandchildren!

      Great to see you today!


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Oh you do make me smile, bill! Thank you, thank you. I'm blushing from all the compliments.

      We have to care about quality, don't we? If not, it's all for nothing and we're letting ourselves down. I had fun with this one (as I usually do in this series) and I learnt things in the process.

      Off to enjoy my day with a smile on my face. Hope your day is great too, bill.

      Ann :)

    • whonunuwho profile image


      4 years ago from United States

      I enjoyed this work very much my friend. I can see the time and effort in composition of such a masterpiece. Well done. whonu

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Another wonderfu addition to thi unique and imaginative series Ann. I agree with all Bill says. I am a little disappointed though."Where's the poem??" Seriously a wonderful hub, poem or not.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      4 years ago from San Diego California

      Wonderful story and analysis of the word clock. Here in the US we rarely use clocking along to refer to a car's speed. Funny how the idioms change. Gotta run, my wife is expecting me and she'll clean my clock if I dont get home on time. Great hub!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I hope those who read this understand how clever it is and how much work went into this. It's not like you're copying down a recipe handed down to you by your grandmother. This is creativity at its finest, all the way from Word One to the end. Great writing by an accomplished writer...that's you, Ann! Thank you for advancing the craft of writing and for actually caring about quality. Brilliant!



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