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A Timeless Argument: We Tell Time Poorly

VANDERSLICE HALL—At approximately 1:45 pm last Thursday, an unnamed student (shocker, it’s me) called University Health Services to set up an appointment. With a strained voice and rampaging fever, the student ran into conversational roadblock when arranging the time of the appointment. The objective asshole…sorry, receptionist, on the line asked whether “quarter of five would work or not.” Simply clarifying the time, the student asked, “Wait, so that means 4:45 and not 5:15, right?” The receptionist was not pleased with the student’s question.4661535-shocking-young-doctor-pointing-at-alarm-clock

In pure astonishment, the receptionist retorted, “Are you serious? Yes, 4:45. Do you speak English?” Well, pompous, self-righteous receptionist, I do speak English, and the phrase “quarter of” to express time is a ridiculous, outright ludicrous way to go about telling time.

If we’re getting down to brass tacks here, there isn’t a legitimate reason to say “quarter of” as opposed to clearly stating the time as it reads. Some argue that this “shorthand” way to tell time is faster. Alas, receptionist, talking like this saves no time at all. Really, no time, like at all. The phrase “quarter of four” has the same number of syllables as saying “four forty-five.” Look, I’ll show you: Quar-ter-of-four. Four-for-ty-five. For those keeping score at home, that’s four syllables to Team Shorthand and four syllables to Team This-Is-A-Better-Way-To-Tell-Time.

Now that it’s been established that saying “quarter of” isn’t faster, what other reasons remain for using this absurd method? Clearly, the remaining reason has to concern the proper usage of the word “of” in this phrase. Wait, it actually seems counter-intuitive to think that “of” means “before” in this instance. Really, in what other situation is it appropriate to say “of” instead of “before?” I mean, look, of I talked to this receptionist, I never thought before how confusing sentences would be if I switched the places before those two words. See what I mean? No coherency at all.

Even more so, saying “of” anything would imply that there literally is a piece of something there. For example, if people were to offer me a quarter of their pizza, it would be outlandish of me to assume they were offering three quarters of their food. They most certainly meant that they were offering one quarter of their food. Also, if I were to tell you I’m a quarter of the way done with my argument here, you would assume that I still have 75% (Wait, he’s throwing in math now? I thought this was about time?) left of the points I’m going to make, rather than jump to the conclusion that I have 25% more talking until I’m done.

Now that I’ve clarified “quarter of” is not faster nor does it make any sense, I ask, why do we use it? Just because other people use it? Just because other people jump off a bridge are you going to jump, too? I think not.

So, sure, saying four forty five is better than quarter of, but the way we tell time makes no sense anyway. In all honesty, army time has a good point. Why are there two of every hour in a day? It’s as if at the founding of the clock the person who made it screwed up and made the hands go twice as fast. Imagine this scenario:

“Hey, I think your clock is broken. It’s about to hit the 12 again and we still have half the day left.”

“That’s because there’s two 12’s in a day, obviously.”

See, receptionist, look what you’ve started. It would have been so much easier, and I wouldn’t have written this sub-par article, if you just said 4:45 of.


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