Time Words: Era, Epoch, and Eon
Sports writers are fond of saying that the retirement of someone or other marks “the end of an era.”
What is an era? And is it different from an epoch? What about an eon?
All three words denote a period of time. All three have specialized meanings for geologists. Here are their most common meanings and connotations.
Both era and epoch denote measurement.
In the sports writer’s usage, an era is a period in the history of a sport. It is a time during which a particular player, manager, or feature may be seen to typify the sport: the Babe Ruth era, the Casey Stengel era, the era of steroid use.
In the historical sense, an era can be a period of time marked by a specific beginning date: the Roman era (beginning with the traditional founding date of 750 BCE.), the Christian era (beginning with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, now believed to have been 4 BCE), or the Muslim era (beginning with Mohammed’s flight from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE).
An epoch, (not to be confused with epic), like an era, is a period of time. An epoch is longer than an era and can cover more than one lifetime. It is marked by some significant development or series of developments: the feudal epoch, the epoch of exploration.
An eon is a very long time indeed. It is the longest period of geological time. Geologists subdivide an eon into eras. A geological era is subdivided into periods, epochs, and stages.
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