Friday, August 20, 2010

Linguistic Patrol: What Time Is It?

It appear some of us did not study our Latin, or possibly just dozed off during the duller parts of How To Tell Time class.

Ante Meridian (or Meridiem). Post Meridiem (or -- well, you get it).
a.m., p.m.
These handy little Roman holdovers (though we use them differently*) mark whether a time in twelve-hour notation happened before or after noon.

When a squeaky-clean, nicely-dressed, well-spoken individual inside my TV set smiles out at me and tells me an event is to happen at "Nine a.m. this morning," or "Seven p.m. this evening," it just grates. Hey, here's a thought; since Latin and logic are toooo harrrrd, whyn't'cha just drop the a.m./p.m. stuff, and leave it at "this morning," "last night" and so on when referring to time of day?

That is all.
* Julius Caesar thought "3 a.m." meant three hours before noon. While there were twelve hours in his day, they always filled dawn to dusk, stretching and shrinking to fit as the seasons wheeled by. His nights were divided not into more hours but four watches. Small wonder, then, that he sat in the Senate, yelling "Kill me! Kill me now!" even as they voted him godhood. Or that he never wore a wristwatch.

P.S.: I have had to edit this about six times for repeated words, typos and just plain "not the word I intended to type" errors. Log-in-eye syndrome, once again.


Anonymous said...

Hallalujah! Thanks for this. I'm
printing it and sending it to our
local NPR affiliate news director.
It's too much from the Department of Superfluous Redundancy Department.
Anon, Don

JohnMXL said...

Ranks right up there with "ATM machine", "PIN number" or stating an amount of money as $X dollars.

Ed Rasimus said...

My professional gag moment comes every time I see "fighter jet" in the media rather than "jet fighter"--you wouldn't refer to a P-51 Mustang as a "fighter prop".

The type if fighter, the adjective is jet. In English the adjectives come before the nouns.

Written at three hours before the meridian, but nine hours after midnight--just to be specific.

BobG said...

One of the reasons I prefer "military time"; you don't need the add-ons, and there is no ambiguity about what time it is.

Loki1776 said...

Then there's always "Please RSVP".

George said...

IN AGREEMENT WITH YOU AND YOUR CORRESPONDENTS ON THIS ISSUE. I'd like to add to the list, 'professional' announcers, who cannot prounounce temperature
(meterologists-you know who you are), jewelry - made from jewels, not jewelers.

Larry said...

It could also be 7 pm, tomorrow evening. 'This evening' is a convenient linguistic convention, indicating the particular day is in fact, today. Sure, you could say '7 pm today', but the fact is that redundancy has a purpose in language.

As a former professional linguist, if you think modern English has redundancies and illogical conventions, you should try some other languages.

Likewiase with ATM and PIN. The raw acronym itself suffers from too much brevity. It's easy to misunderstand or fail to hear. That's one reason we use NATO codes when spelling things out over telecom equipment. "Beeee" and "Deeee" are too similar and easy to misunderstand.

I understand when a little pedantry can clear things up- being more specific and precise usually leads to better communication (particularly in written conversation as opposed to spoken), but there are situations where it does not.

KA9VSZ said...

My timesheet was rejected because "you failed to put A.M. or P.M. after your twelves". I explained (through gritted teeth) the meaning of AM and PM to the new payroll person and how it was wrong wrong WRONG. She didn't care because "3 hours after 9AM could be midnight if you stayed late and didn't record your overtime". She called her supervisor to meet with me because she wasn't comfortable with my lack of enthusiasm. Somebody just shoot me, please?

WV is "froido"- like Stevearino for hobbits.

Montie said...

I'm with BobG.

After 10 years military and 25 years as a cop, I think pretty much in military time. brief, simple and no need for add-ons. It's also hard to confuse, for example, 0500 (5:00 AM) with 1700 (5:00 PM).

Justthisguy said...

I do wish people would understand that 12 P.M. means Midnight, and that 12 M. means noon.

Roberta X said...

Alas, sir, by convention and usage, you are wrong. Easily shown: one minute after midnight is 12:01 a.m.; one minute after noon is 12:01 p.m. This is also true of 12:00:00.0000[...appallingly long string of zeros...]000001. The a/p/a transition occurs as 11:59:yaddayaddayadda flips over to 12:00.

Kevin said...

I concur with Larry. "9 AM this morning" is OK, as long as it's distinguishing between, say "9 AM yesterday." The usage that grates on me is "On Thursday at 9 AM in the morning . . . " Well, duh.

Another quirk: "Hot water heater."

If it's "hot water" why does it need to be heated? It's a water heater. You can leave off the Dept. of Redundancy Department.

Roberta X said...

It And I'm being nice saying it that way. "Nine this morning," or "Today at 9:00 a.m.." works just as well without torturing the ear.

I find the incorrect usage much more grating when used by a professional newsreader or writer than in casual conversation: dog-gone it, someone has to be a good example and if not them, then who?

(I'm down with the weirdness of "hot water heater." Does it linger from the days when we -- if we were well-off -- had steam boilers in the basement for domestic heat and/or power next to the very similar device that provided domestic hot water? If anything, it should be a "cold water heater:" if the water's hot, it doesn't need to be heated!)