About Time: Idioms About Time

TL;DR:

In the comments below please post, in your native language, or a non-English language in which you are fluent:

  1. how you would ask someone what time it is, and the literal word-for-word translation into English
  2. how you would ask someone where you are and the literal word-for-word translation into English

I wonder if I should stop being surprised when topics I’ve discussed separately with separate people all start to relate. On Monday I talked about idioms in ECE2524 and made some comparisons between idioms in programming languages to idioms in spoken languages. As I thought about examples of idioms I noticed there were quite a lot about time:

  • on time
  • about time
  • in time
  • next time

just to name a few (I’ve somewhat intentionally left out more complex examples like “a watched pot never boils”, “better late than never”, etc.). Today in vtclis13 we discussed McCloud’s “Time Frames”, a comic that explores the various ways time and motion are represented in comics. Inevitably we talked about the different ways of talking about and perceiving time, from the relativistic physical properties of the dimension, to our own personal perception of the passage of time, and how in both cases the rate of time can change based on the environment. Time is such a funny thing. We often talk about it as if we know what we’re talking about and we take various metrics for granted: In the U.S. what is it about taking 16 trips around the sun that makes someone ready to drive a car? 2 more orbits and we’re deemed ready to vote, and after a total of 21 orbits, after we have been on the Earth as it has traveled through about 19,740,000,000 kilometers relative to the sun, we are legally able to purchase alcohol.

But if Einstein’s forays into relativity have taught us anything it is that nothing about time is absolute as we generally have an intuition for. And so I became curious about the idioms we use to talk about time and how they differ from culture to culture, language to language. Dr. C put my thought into a question: “Are idioms about time especially diverse?”. And so, through this little survey, I would like to explore that question by gathering some time idioms in the comments section, please refer back to the first paragraph for specific instructions!

Structure, Language and Art

In a recent post tylera5 commented that the last time he wrote poetry was in high school, and wasn’t expecting to have to write a poem for a programming course. I got the idea for a poetry assignment from a friend of mine who teaches a biological science course. She found that the challenge of condensing a technical topic into a 17 syllable Haiku really forces one to think critically about the subject and filter through all the information to shake out the key concept. And poems about tech topics are just fun to read!

I think the benefit is even increased for a programming course. As tylera5 mentioned, both poems had a structure, and he had to think a bit about how to put his thoughts into the structure dictated by the poetry form, whether it be the 5/7/5 syllable structure of a Haiku, or the AABBA rhyming scheme of a limerick.

Poetry is the expression of ideas and thoughts through structured language (and the structure can play a larger or lesser roll depending on the poet, and type of poetry). Programming also is the expression of ideas and thoughts through structured language. The domain of ideas is often more restricted (though not necessarily, this article and book could be the subject of a full post in its own right) and adherence to structure is more strict, but there is an art to both forms of expression.

Are there artistic and expressive tools in other STEM topics as well?