Submitted by steve on September 28, 2005

O’clock

What does the “o’” in “o’clock” stand for? I’ve heard it means “of the”, but that sounds odd. “I’ll meet you at two of the clock”. Perhaps it means “on the” which makes more sense to me. “I’ll meet you at two on the clock”

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@Chris B - interesting. New Zealand seems to have quite a few little idiosyncrasies, some of which Hairy Scot has pointed out. Radio announcers also have their language, things like 'on the hour' , 'the news at this hour' etc. And you can add Polish to your list of 'half before' languages.

Vaguely connected - Brits use hundreds between 1000 and 2000, but thousands after that - fifteen hundred, but two thousand five hundred. I've noticed, however, that Americans don't seem to stop at 2000, and will say things like thirty-five hundred where we would say three thousand five hundred.

@Cherochaun - in case you hadn't noticed, some of us already have a hobby - chatting about English. In any conversation among interested people, the subject tends to wander a bit, and these threads are no different. I certainly don't come here to discover 'what is necessary', but what is interesting, for example what Chris B has said about NZ usage or what Skeeter Lewis said about 'a quarter of three'.

For some of us, I would suggest that the questions are merely the frames for the discussion, and very often the off-topic bits are the most interesting. I've learnt a lot since I started visiting this site, but probably more from these asides than from the actual answers. And if the answer is all you wanted, you didn't have to look far - Dave answered it in the first comment.

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WW: I do hear things like "six past ten" and "twenty-one to eleven" on the radio here in NZ.
I think how we talk about time varies a lot between the different forms of English.
For instance, "half nine" (for 9:30) is very common in the UK, rather less common in NZ, and I'm guessing almost unheard of in America. (In German and Dutch, "half nine", or its equivalent, means 8:30!)

Cherochaun: when I first read your comment I thought your "minute" was the thing there are 60 of between one o'clock and two o'clock, but it appears you mean the other kind of minute.
I think most of us do know the correct answer: it's short for "of the clock".

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Wow!!! I googled this looking for a short sweet answer n all of yal have taken this minute little o'clock to extremes beyond what normal people would definately think as necessary. Seems like some of you really need to get a hobby or something. The info is nice, but if you don't know the correct answer why put another topic on the plate of what was a simple question.

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@Budahust - Why do we say 9.30pm, but not half past nine pm? Or five past ten and twenty to eleven, but six minutes past ten and twenty-one minutes to eleven? These are just some of life's little mysteries.

I would guess the serious answer to your question is - because the whole number without the minutes or quarters might have sounded a bit bare, and in any case it was a way of clearly differentiating it from the rest.

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Why does no one say o'clock with times other than the whole number? Like 9:30 o'clock? Or 5:15 o'clock?

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@Skeeter Lewis (belatedly) - Well remembered (nearly) - "Beaver has the Audience and Admiration of his Neighbours from Six 'till within a Quarter of Eight, at which time he is interrupted by the Students of the House" - http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12030/12030-h/SV...

Searching for "a quarter of three" in Google Books brings up a few results, for example:

"At a quarter of three the expected party arrived" - History of Berkshire County, Massachusets

"It might want about a quarter of three o'clock when we got there" - Political Register 1768

"Il est trois heures moins un quart, it wants a quarter of three" - Boyer's French Dictionary 1839 - so a quarter of three definitely means a quarter to three.

The use of o'clock may have declined a lot in the twentieth century, but it seems to be having a bit of a revival in this one:

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=o%...

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it mean OUT OF THE MAP because you guys are so so so stupid

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I'm pretty sure I've come across the usage 'a quarter of three' in the essays of Addison and Steele in the Spectator from the early eighteenth century.

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The editors of the online etymology dictionary (oed) obviously consulted (as did I) with the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), to whom I must defer in matters of my tortured tongue. This from my 1955 ed of the OUniversalD:
" 'O'clock' is short for of the clock; other variants were of clock, a clock (see A prep.2)"
At p. 326 under "clock" sb. 2.

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It's five o'clock in the morning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sj1DR5BhOd8

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I'm American and I DO say "quarter of" instead of "quarter to". But, I'm from Philadelphia. Maybe it's an east cost thing.

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Some interesting comments spanning almost seven years. The etymology of "o'clock" is intriguing but here's the reality: the "o'" in "o'clock" no longer really stands for anything in itself. The whole expression "o'clock" survives as an idiom and for indicating time.

Or maybe not. For, as "Canada Goose" notes, the expression does appear to be falling more and more out of use.

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Great thread. Of interest are the reports that the expression "o' clock" is fading after six centuries. Maybe it's because we don't use clocks or watches anymore. u just never know.

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'My lord, I was born about three of the clock in the afternoon, with a white head and something a round belly.' - Falstaff in Henry IV Part 2, Act 1, Scene 2

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Enjoyed greatly the notion that "o'clock" is from the German. "acht Uhr" means "eight o'clock". Moved into English in stages, see the movie "Casablanca" with Humph and Lauren. Some elderly German emigrants heading for the USA are practising their English: he asks her "What watch is it?", she replies "Eight watch" and he looks surprised and says "Such watch?".
I don't think they found "o'clock" came too naturally.

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@anurag ... Have a cite? Your claim that it is "on clock" gainsays what is taught. I would think it would be "on the clock" if you want to brook "on" instead of "of". Then if someone says "It's a quarter of nine", it would make sense spread out to "It's a quarter of nine on the clock."

My guess is that both "of the clock" and "on the clock" were used.

@Brixen and Travis ... Saying "a quarter of" and "a quarter til" are both common in the South.

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@rakesh.
first option will b wrong
as interrogative/relative pronoun contains noun/verb.
o'clock means on clock.
on is preposition,it cant be followed with which.

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O'clock means 'on clock'
n is removed by the sign of single inverted comma.

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O'clock means 'on clock'
n is removed by the sign of single inverted comma.

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Hi, I found this website out of curiosity (I'm an English-Spanish translator & linguist, lover of all things related to languages) and so far I'm liking it! =)

Anyway, this is an interesting question, so I looked it up in the Online Etymology Dictionary website (http://www.etymonline.com), from which I quote:

======================
o'clock
c.1720, abbreviation of "of the clock", from M.E. "of the clokke" (1389). Attested from 1904 in ref. to direction (by shooters, fighter pilots, etc.).

======================

Keep up the good work with your website! :D

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I'm not sure about that the "O" in Irish names is a contraction of "of". I think it's actually from Irish Gaelic "Ó", meaning "grandson".

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Regarding names, O' does mean "of the"
Like, Jon O'Mally is Jon o(f the) Mally (family)
In time, it just became O'Mally.

..like "o'clock".

Here's a spin off question though...

"A quarter past 9" means 9:15.
"A quarter to 9" means 8:45.

So, "a quarter of 9" means 9:15 or 9:45?
...to me it sounds like 9:15...
..but the above commentors makes it sound as if
"to 9" and "of 9" are the same.

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Porsche-

"Clearly" but in Spanish. Just a tick of mine..

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AO, I'm probably missing something, but what do you mean by "Claro"? Um, something to do with light-colored cigars?

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Whoever said that the O' in O'clock means anything other than "of the" is wrong. Claro.

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Look at "of the" as "according to," and it all makes sense . . .

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Just to add one more though, my research digging came up with of the clock and was used in the military when referring to where an enemy was, i.e. the enemy is at 1 o'clock or 1 of the clock. That's what I know, for what it's worth.

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Rakesh, you say "What time will you be there".

It's a nice thing you learn spoken English, but if I were "u" I would focus on those courses on written English as well...

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hi ...
im rakesh,, im learlning spoken english.. im seeking some help
can v ask someone like this-- "what 'O' clock u will be here?"

which is correct?
1) what 'O' clock u will be there?
or
2) what time u will be there?

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I'm 100% sure it means "of the".

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it is still weird.OH

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Im back from school and I have the real answer i is of the clock.

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"what time is it?"

"ten to."

"ten to what?"

"tend to your own business!"

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I've noticed myself saying "quarter of" or "quarter till" under the presumption that the listener knows the hour, but saying "quarter to" if I feel they are clueless about the hour ("quarter to nine").

I've lived in many parts of the US and heard all three versions regardless of whether or not the hour is stated.

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Gohai, who told you Americans say "a quarter of" instead of a "a quarter to"? I'm American, born and raised, and have never heard that before. Perhaps it's regional.

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O'="of the"

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I called one of my clients the other day to confirm an appointment.
I said "Ill see you at 11 of the clock".
She said "Oh you would like to meet at the clock tower?"
I said "NO, eleven of the clock.
"What?"
"You know 11 O clock."
"Oh now I understand."

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It is weird.

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Iam doing a report for school and I need to find the right answer I will report again and reveal the real answer. I say it's "of the".

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i was taught that the "o" in O'clock standed for over as in over the hour.

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I got on to this as I was looking for something completely different...

On engineering drawings you'll always see "manufacture 5 off", and never "5 of", for a quantity of 5 items. I think this has to do with "5 items off the drawing, or bill of materials", which leads me to believe that Peter is the only person here who got it right.

Anyway, suppose you shouldn't trust an Afrikaans speaking engineer to advise on the subtle aspects of English.

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Yes, it's "of the clock".

But the O' in O'Malley does not come from "of"; it comes from Irish Gaelic "au" meaning "grandson".

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of course "of the clock" im a linguist

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Actually, it's funny you should say that, Julia. The English word clock and the German Glocke are cognates. More precisely, clock is from the French cloche which means bell also, and is a cognate with the German word, both from the latin glocio

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Sorry Specialk, im pretty sure its not German. i am German, and I have never heard of a similar term. I can just think of "Glocke" that has more or less the same sound. it means bell and doesnt have anything to do with the "o" or the clock. i think the "of the" sounds pretty logical ...

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O'clock would come from French "à la cloche" (which means at the bell). When people didn't get watches and clocks at home, they would rely on the bell ringing from the bell tower ... so it was said it is nine "à la cloche" (at the bell) and with time became more and more transformed into the English form `"o'clock". like ivoire became ivory, folie gave folly, parlement became parliament and so many others...

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I also heard it means "of the" and it came from old English. I know Americans say "It's a quarter of" rather than "a quarter to".
Also, as an Irish person I can assure you that it certainly does not mean "Son of" as Gravy suggested. I can only assume that he was joking.

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Of the clock, duh.
As opposed to 2 of the whatever else.

English peasants were dumb and might have gone to 2 of the address if it wasn't specified

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I was told that it came from German, and means "of the clock."

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AHAHAHAHAHA....I'm sorry Gravy, but you made me laugh my ass off. It's not son of the clock, nor was it ever that. It's 'of the clock'. However, no one except some adults say it's 9 o'clock. Most everyone says 9 p.m. or a.m. Whichever. And Irish have nothing to do o'clock.

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While all of those explainations are quiant... they are all wrong. Truth is "O" is an Irish contraction of "Son of", as in O'Grady... therefore, o'clock means "son of the clock".

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it's 'of the'. no arguments, no questions, no whining, nothing. google it - everywhere you go will tell you the same thing.

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I disagree. It means 'off the clock' from olden days when hours were counted off the clock

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"o'" is a contraction of "of the", not "on the". As in "What of the clock?" "It is nine of the clock". Archaic, which is why it sounds funny.

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