• o'clock •
Part of Speech: Adverb
Meaning: According to the clock
Notes: Lori Bates, who suggested today's Good Word, has noticed that it is going out of use. More and more often we say 8 AM or 8 PM rather than "8 o'clock this morning" and "8 o'clock this evening". In fact, we are in the process of changing all the ways we denote time. I think I am the last remaining American to date my checks August 30, 2010. Even on the contracts I sign my cosignatory almost always writes 9/30/2010, if American, or 30/9/2010, if European. The times, they are a-changing, as Bob Dylan put it.
In Play: Here is how Americans once talked: "You called me at two o'clock in the morning to tell me that you got a date with some girl?!" It takes a few words more, but isn't it worth it for the bit of poetry it adds? "Gladys Friday starts watching the clock at four o'clock to make sure she doesn't stay in the office a second beyond five."
Word History: The origin of o'clock is no mystery: it is a contraction of "of the clock", a codification, in fact, of a spelling error. It is not alone in this category: we also find jack-o'-lantern, will-o'-the-wisp, and no doubt others there. Clock itself has an interesting history. It originally meant "bell" and was derived from a verb meaning "to strike", Old English cluccgan. It probably originally referred to a bell clapper. It is related to German glocken "bell", known to English speakers from the German word for the bell-play musical instrument, the glockenspiel. The shift of the meaning from "bell" to "clock" occurred at a time when most people got the time from the ringing of the village church bells. (Well, it is time to clock in our gratitude to Lori Bates for spotting the interest in today's Good Word and suggesting it.)
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