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Once upon a time

This week’s Word for Wednesday is a noun most of us will use every day. Unfortunately we can’t see it, hear it or touch it. It is in fact a phenomenon so incredibly abstract that it can easily slip out of our grasp. It seems to have the ability to bend and stretch, to fleet and vanish.

Tolkien once wrote a wonderful riddle to which our word is the answer:

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

Time is constantly around us but nowhere to be seen. It is a system so deeply ingrained in our psyche that it is almost impossible to conceive a state of being without it.

Imagine a world in which time wasn’t a recognized structure, would life be any less stressful, or does the very concept of time lead to a more organized even enjoyable lifestyle?

The most interesting ancestor of the word time is probably the (PIE) Proto-Indo-European word, ‘di-mon’ meaning ‘to divide’. Interestingly, we also get the idea of a ‘tide’ from this origin – the division of earth and sea. In Old English, ‘tide’ meant a ‘point or portion in time’ later; this was used to describe the rising and falling of the sea. Have you ever wondered why ‘tide’ and ‘time’ are so similar?

I think questioning the concept of time itself is enough of a mind-boggle for a Wednesday, so I’ll catch you next time…

Hugh MacDermott

08 Jan 2014
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