Sands and Hands of Time

By Maeve Maddox

Sometimes eggcorns catch on.

An eggcorn is the reshaping of a common word or expression that makes sense in a certain way. The term comes from misspelling eggcorn for acorn. As explained by Chris Waigl, “the substitution [of eggcorn for acorn] involved more than just ignorance: an acorn is more or less shaped like an egg; and it is a seed, just like grains of corn. So if you don’t know how acorn is spelled, egg corn actually makes sense.”

The often-heard expression “hands of time” may have begun as an eggcorn, but has caught on in general speech.

Long after hourglasses were replaced by clocks, the image of sand falling to the bottom half of an hourglass remained strong as an image of time passing. People talked and wrote about “the sands of time.”

Longfellow (1807-1882) uses the image in “A Psalm of Life”:

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time

NBC still uses it on the longest running soap opera on television:

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.

Nowadays, people writing songs and selling beauty products want to “turn back” the “hands of time.”

Turn back the hands of time with these 5 beauty products
Skin Care Products for Women – Turning Back the Hands of Time

If I could turn, turn back the hands of time/Then my darlin’ you’d still be mine

“Hands of time” may have begun with someone who didn’t know about hourglasses but was familiar with the hands on an analog clock and the necessity of turning them back in regions that observe Daylight Savings Time.

I wonder what the new image will be when the image of a clockface is forgotten, and time is perceived as passing digitally. The bands of time?

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7 Responses to “Sands and Hands of Time”

  • Dale A. Wood

    I think that the expression “hands of time” will stay with us for a long and indefinite period, just like the expression “dialing a telephone” has stayed with us and it shows no sign of going away.

    Likewise, we still have the expressions
    1. “crank up the car”
    2. “watch the sand go slowly through the hourglass”
    3. “blow the horn” – though this is now done with electronics
    4. “bail out the bilges” – of a ship or large boat, despite the fact that this is usually done with electric-powered pumps nowadays
    5. “throw the switch” – even though that is often done with pushbuttons now.
    6. “turn the channel” – even though for TVs this is most often done with pushbuttons (on a remote control, too), and it is very hard to find a TV with a rotary channel knob anymore
    May be continued…
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    7. “brand the cow” and other expressions with “brand” despite the fact that cattle and other animals have not been marked with hot irons for a long time – it is cruel treatment. Cattle are marked with painless means involving paints and dyes, or with tags attached to their ears. There is a whole family of expressions involving the word “brand” that is descended from this branding of cattle (horses, etc.) and most of those uses do not have anything to do with animals.
    8. “sign on” and “sign off” concerning radio and TV broadcasting. These are still used (for a variety of purposes) despite the fact that most radio and TV stations don’t do that anymore, but rather they just broadcast 24 hours a day. It used to be that for most TV stations and FM radio stations, it was a loss of money for them to broadcast in the middle of the night, so they stopped broadcasting e.g. from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. They had sign on and sign off procedures that involved playing the National Anthem, and I always enjoyed that.
    (By the way, all Mexican stations are required by the Mexican government to play the Mexican national anthem at least once every 24 hours. Hence, if you tuned into a “radio talk” program and then there was music instead, that was probably the Mexican national anthem – undless it had to do with a radio commercial.)

    AM radio stations used to be very popular in the United States and Canada, and those present technical problems of their own. Let’s just say that the amount of radio interference increases a lot within a couiple of hours after the sun goes down. Many AM stations in the U.S. and the neighboring countries had (and still have) the licensing requirement of signing off their transmissions for at least six hours every night. In the U.S., that is regulated by the FCC. The requirements for AM broadcasting at night were set by the Treaty of Havanna of 1937, which covers the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas — but interestingly, not Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, etc. (There must be a separate treaty for those places – places where broadcasting was not considered to be important back in the 1930s.)
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    “Radio dial” – very few radios have dials for tuning anymore, but this expression can still be heard. Most radio tuning is done digitally anymore. Still, people talk about the “low end of the radio dial” and the “high end of the radio dial”.
    For FM broadcasting in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, the “low end of the radio dial” is in the range of about 88.0 megahertz to 92.0 megahertz, and the “high end of the radio dial” the range of about 104.0 MHz to 108.0 MHz. Everything else was “somewhere in the middle”. When I was going to college at Auburn University, the most popular radio station was a powerful one in Columbus, Georgia, WCGQ. Its carrier frequency was 107.7 MHz, definitely at the high end, since the only available FM station that is higher is at 107.9 MHz.
    The FM broadcasting stations are spaced 200 KHz apart.

    In the United States, the FM band from 88.0 MHz to 92.0 MHz is allocated for public radio broadcasting, such as NPR stations, though they are not all located there.

    If you are a very religious person (Christian) and you lived in the heart of Appalachia, you might look out for the radio station WWJD because that stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” That is a station that is associated with a small religious college, and I think that it is located somewhere in western Virginia, western North Carolina, or West Virginia.

    If you want to try listening to something wacky, you could try the radio station WAKY in Louisville, Kentucky.
    There have been TV programs about a fictional radio station named WENN, but I disliked that usage. The real WENN was in Birmingham, Alabama, and it was one of the most prominent Black-owned and operated radio stations in the whole country. I think that WENN-FM still exists there. I don’t see any reason for insulting the name of the station.
    By the way, WENN = W plus Entertainment Negro National, and it was established back with Negroes had a hard time breaking into broadcasting, or any kind of big business at all. Those people deserved our respect for what they did.
    D.A.W.

  • venqax

    Is there anyone who can please take the expression, “sands of time” and somehow relate it to the history of black radio in Alabama? A lot of people have trouble doing that.

    Wait…OMG!

  • Roberta B.

    Well….Nos. 1 thru 7 and the first part of No. 8 related to the topic and WERE kind of interesting, but then it went on to musings about those topics that would seem to be more appropriate on his own blog. I keep dropping hints (and he might even be able to attract an audience interested in times past), but he has planted himself here. Maybe one day he’ll get adventurous and wander off in that direction.

  • venqax

    Well, wandering back in this direction…I love eggcorns. Among my favorites are towing the line and anchors away. As for anachronistic expressions, I’d submit that even nuclear-powered aircraft carriers still “sail” wherever they’re going.

  • Ray Ward

    Reminds me of this R&B hit from back in the day: Tyrone Davis, “If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time.”
    http://youtu.be/fLZfRkbYIvY

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