Time Steals Away

When I started thinking about this topic, which so often happens due to an etymology I’ve seen, I found many expressions and quotes related to time being a thief.

The most common thing that came up was the first line to John Newton’s poem “A New Year’s Thought and Prayer” It reads, “Time, by moments, steals away.” Despite the poem’s unfortunate closing lines – “Let our prayer thy bowels move, Make this year a time of love!” – we can relate to its basic theme, which is that we should take advantage of time as it steals away our hours, days, and years. For a long list of “Time is a thief” quotes, check out this page.

I often come to English etymologies indirectly, through the Spanish etymologies I read on La palabra del día. Today’s word was clepsidra, a water clock that works on the same principle as an hourglass to measure time. Rather than sand running through it, water drips consistently, and the hours are marked on the sides of the bowl or glass. One of the advantages of it is that it can be used, unlike the sundial, when it’s dark. And until the development of the pendulum clock in the 17th century, it was the most accurate timepiece available.

I had never heard of this device, so I went to see if I could find the English equivalent, which I learned was spelled “clepsydra.”

You can easily see the etymology if you look. “Clep” comes from the Greek “kleptein,” meaning “to steal,” and the “ydra” element comes from Greek “hydor,” water. You’ll recognize those from “kleptomaniac” and the many words related to water, like “hydrate” and “hydroelectricity.”

Here are two examples, a photo from Jeremy Norman’s historyofinformation.com page, that shows the type where one bowl sits in another,

and an illustration clipped from hydrojing.com, a hydraulic engineering consultant firm in Spain. (Though it appears their consulting relates to more modern topics.) In this type, water flows from one vessel set higher into one below it.

I wear an analog watch, which chiefly serves to tell me that I’m almost late, though I’m almost always, almost on time. But time is a thief equally with a pendulum, the running of sand, the dripping of water, or a read-your-texts, count-your-steps modern contraption.

A few days ago, I asked somehow how he was, and he said, “Older than I’ve ever been.” I answered, “Just wait until tomorrow!” Because time steals away.

About Verla

Wordfreak. Retired private investigator and Spanish court interpreter. Erstwhile librarian. Texan by birth, cheesehead by upbringing, latina by soul, in New Mexico by choice. Lover of things purple. Passionate participant in the Librivox audiobook recording project. We record books that are in the public domain in the U.S. The recordings are then placed in the public domain themselves.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply