Saturday, March 10, 2012

Don't "fall back" into a bad language habit this spring

First proposed in 1895 by George Vernon Hudson, Daylight Saving Time was first implemented during the First World War and is used in many countries today. This Sunday, as people in North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and other parts of the world spring forward and shift their clocks ahead one hour at 01:59 Standard Time, I’m sure I will find myself once again cringing with every mention of Daylight Savings Time. Savings. With that dreaded s.
Although clock shifts are usually scheduled near midnight on a Saturday to lessen the disruption to weekday schedules, the practice still complicates timekeeping and disrupts meetings, travel, billing, recordkeeping, medical devices, heavy equipment, and, oh yes, sleep patterns. How I hate losing that precious hour’s sleep, but it’s people’s misuse of the name I resent more than the disruption to my sleep schedule.

Daylight Saving Time, which employs the present participle as an adjective (think of labour saving device and time saving measures as examples), is correct, although Daylight Savings Time and the shortened daylight savings are also common, by analogy to savings account. I find people's ignorance in this regard depressing, frankly. About as depressing as the lack of daylight itself.

Having lived in Canada all my life, I’m all for the practice advancing clocks so that evenings have more daylight and mornings less. After all, our winters here are long and dark. James Michener, in his book The Drifters, described the lack of daylight in Tromsø, Norway, thus:

Each year on the twenty-second of September the sun, in its appointed climb up and down the heavens, reached the halfway mark in its descent, and then day and night were of equal length; but swiftly thereafter the sun declined, so that even at midday it remained hidden below the horizon, making the days brief and the nights interminable. As December approached, the people of Tromsø said, ‘We are heading into the tunnel,’ an appropriate simile, since it conveyed the idea that after a long dark passage the world would once more burst into joyous daylight; but to young people the image was a mournful one, because they could not take comfort from the promise of a distant spring They could see only the extinction of light and the beginning of that dark interlude that gripped the soul.

An apt description, this is, undoubtedly, much more poetic than I could ever craft.

This Sunday as you “spring ahead”, don’t send me into the tunnel of deep despair by “falling back” into an old—and bad—language habit. Drop the s; you can have it back in November.

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