Time on Your Hands

By Maeve Maddox

For me, January is a time for thinking about time.

The month is named for Janus, the Roman god depicted as having two faces. The double visage represents the power to see into the past and the future. Because of this attribute, Janus was the patron of beginnings.

Our word time has been in the language since Old English times. It occurs in numerous idioms such as time of day, time-travel, time-keeper, time-limit, about time, and to have a good time. Before any of our British readers object to that last one as a vile Americanism, according to the OED,

to have a good time ( = a time of enjoyment) was common in Eng. from c 1520 to c 1688; it was app. retained in America, whence readopted in Britain in 19th c.”

Another word for time, Greek khronos, has also been put to good use in English in the form of the word elements chron and chrono. Here are just a few, some more useful than others.

anachronism: the erroneous reference of an event, circumstance, or custom to a wrong date. For example, Shakespeare’s plays contain numerous anachronisms. In Julius Caesar, set in Roman times, a character counts the chimes of a mechanical clock. References to clothing often indicate that Shakespeare’s actors performed in contemporary Elizabethan garb, no matter what the historical setting of the play.

If you want to get really picky, here are some words to narrow down the type of anachronism you mean:

parachronism: an error in chronology, esp. the placing of an event later than its real date. Metachronism has the same meaning.

prochronism: an error in chronology that places an event earlier in time than its true date.

The next three words are used in the study of linguistics.

achronic lasting through time, or during the existing period. In linguistics the term means “pertaining to or designating a method of linguistic study concerned with the historical development of a language; historical, as opposed to descriptive or synchronic.”

panchronic: designating or relating to a linguistic structure or theory that may be applied to all languages at all stages of their development.

synchronic: pertaining to or designating a method of linguistic study concerned with the state of a language at one time, past or present; descriptive, as opposed to historical or diachronic.

Then we have

chronic lasting a long time, long-continued, lingering; said of diseases

chronicle: a detailed and continuous register of events in order of time. It can also be used as a verb, to chronicle.

chronobiology: the scientific study of temporal or periodic phenomena in biology. This is the word that set me off on this theme. I encountered it in a New York Times story:

Dr Michael Smolensky, an expert in chronobiology (the study of the body’s natural rhythms and cycles) at the University of Texas at Houston, says that people who live in countries that are cold in winter eat more than they do in warmer seasons: “Adults typically consume 6 to 7 per cent more calories in the winter.”

chronological: arranged according to time

dendrochronology: the science of arranging events in the order of time by the comparative study of the annual growth rings in (ancient) timber.

isochron: a line (imaginary or on a map) connecting points at which some chosen time interval has the same value. Planning a complex novel might lead a writer to make a chart with isochrons.

monochronic: relating to or dating from a single period of time.

pseudochronism: Obs. rare a false dating; an error in date.

synchronicity: Carl Jung used this word to name the phenomenon of events which coincide in time and appear meaningfully related but have no discoverable causal connection.

synchronize: To cause to be, or represent as, synchronous; to assign the same date to; to bring together events, etc. belonging to the same time. I’ll always associate this word with old movies. The plan requires each member of a group to perform separate actions at the same moment. Before initiating the plan, the leader of the good guys gives the command, “Synchronize your watches!”

Some more ‘time” expressions in English:
Time, Gentlemen, Please
More “chron” words

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3 Responses to “Time on Your Hands”

  • Daquan Wright

    Great writing, this isn’t specific to time but I will say keep up the good work! I love learning about the history of my own language and you’ve made that much easier for me. <3

  • Greg

    This is an awesome post. Timely too as this month is the best month of the decade, so far.

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