Tempus fugit—how time flies
- November 6, 2023
- Posted by: Madrigal Admin
- Category: Word of the Week Blog
I was invited to the Sydney Artisan Watchmakers trade show by my watchmaker friend and his mates (2 November 2023). It did make me think about time and time passing and the meaning of horology. It is now November, and how the year has almost gone. The Romans also had an expression that we sometimes hear—tempus fugit (time flies).
What is time?
Time is very conceptual in nature. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as a continuous, measurable quantity in which events occur in a sequence proceeding from the past through the present to the future.
In Old English, “tima” meant a limited space of time. The word comes from Old German “timon” and is similar to the Old Norse “timi”. It is obviously a very old word with roots in the original language of Europe and Asia. “Tima” is thought to come from a word “dimon” from the base “da” meaning to cut up, to divide. So, originally time meant not the continuous quantity that we now use it to mean, but how we divide it up.
The Latin word for time was “tempus” as mentioned. We find it in many English words: temporal, contemporary, tempo, tempest, etc.
The Greek word, “khronos”, meant time, a lifetime, a season, or a while. It has given us the English words: chronology (a sequence of events), anachronism (an error in computing time or finding dates), chronometer (an accurate time measuring device) and chronic (as in a disease that lasts a long time).
During the Age of Enlightenment (17-18th centuries) there was a focus on knowledge gained from reason. Along with many sciences, the science of time, evolved, at that time. Horology is a modern word coined from Greek “hora” for hour, part of the day or any period of time and “logy” for the science of (from “legein” to speak or to tell).
“Horology” nowadays is used particularly for the art of making clocks and watches. Earlier in English it meant clock or clock dial, as in an instrument for telling the hour from Latin “horologium” (in Medieval Latin, a clock). In Greek the original word hōrologion was an instrument for telling the hour which at that time was a sundial or a water-clock.
And therefore a clock-maker was a horologer and the now obsolete English word for a timepiece, sundial, hourglass, clock was a “horologe”. There was a delightful expression “the devil in the horologe” which referred to the “mischief in an orderly system”.
A double chromometer
My friend the clockmaker is very seldom impressed. However, one watch at the show that did create some excitement for him was the Cyrus Klepcys DICE Racing model. Even to me, who knows little about watches, it was a beautiful piece of engineering. DICE stands for Double Independent Chronograph Evolution and a watch with two independent chronometers is a world first.
Seize your day
How many times have you said I can’t believe it is November already? Well understanding that time is precious I suggest you “carpe diem”, Latin for seize the day or more literally pluck the day. Have a good one.