Friday, February 1, 2013

On senior-citizen time

When we make reference to time we are, in most cases, talking nonsense. Consider the following statements:

"I'll be with you in a moment."

"It's been an eternity since I've seen her."

"I want you to pick up your toys this instant."

"Let's get together soon."

In all these statements, the time reference is, at best, an exaggeration and, at worst, an absurdity. Both a moment and an instant are gone by the time the sentence is finished. Eternity -- can there be more than one of them? -- is certainly longer than one lifetime, let alone the months or years that have passed between encounters between two people. The word soon, at least, is ambiguous enough to mean anything from a few minutes from now to never.

And what does now mean? Mark Forsyth writes in his book The Etymologicon, "These days, now has to have the word right stuck on the front or it doesn't mean a thing." For that matter, what does these days mean?

For the most part, ambiguity in our time references is fine with us. In fact, it is, in most instances, exactly what we want. We don't want to have to be too specific about when something will happen or when something happened. We seem to understand what other people mean even when they talk nonsense.

I must say, however, that I am having trouble adjusting to what I think of as senior-citizen time here in Florida, where I am spending the winter. I have always tried to be prompt. If I was supposed to start work at 6 a.m., I arrived at work as close to 6 a.m. as I possibly could. I never wanted to arrive "fashionably late" to parties. According to senior-citizen time, however, prompt means early and on time means late.

I have twice gone to men's breakfasts at a restaurant that are announced for 7 a.m. Both times I got there just before 7 to find everyone else seated, and it was obvious most of the men had been there for some time. I was regarded as a late-comer. My wife and I attend church dinners that are supposed to start at 5:45, but most people are seated and already eating their salads by 5:30. So it is obvious that even a specific time can be meaningless.

No comments:

Post a Comment