Posted by: Jack Henry | May 19, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Timepieces

Top of the morning to you!

I was wearing a wristwatch recently, and my two-year old grandson touched it and said, “clock.” And I said “Yes, it is a kind of clock. It’s a watch.” And I immediately knew this was an Editor’s Corner moment.

Why do we call timepieces that are mounted on the wall or mantel clocks and timepieces on our wrists or in our pockets watches?

According to an article on the Grammarphobia website, the term watch did not originate from the act of watching your watch (be it a pocket watch or a wristwatch) as you might imagine. It actually comes from the Old English word wæcce or wæccan, and it refers to wakefulness, particularly to the sense of staying awake to guard or observe something.

After reading that, you might still be confused about why we call the timepiece we wear on our wrist a watch. I was,so I continued reading, and the article goes on to say that a watch was originally a device that was used to wake people up so they could stand their watch—a sort of alarm clock. Closer, but still not what we think of as a watch today.

In Middle English, the word for an alarm that was attached to a clock and that was used to wake people was wecche, and the word for clock was clokke. So, you would have a wecche on your clokke (nothing at all like having a burr on your hide or a bee in your bonnet).

Moving along in time, several citations from the Oxford English Dictionary, dating back to the late 1500s, use the word watch to refer to a small timepiece that is spring driven and small enough to be carried in the pocket. So there’s your pocket watch, friends!

According to a New York Timesarticle, the first wristwatch was made for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary in 1868 by a Swiss manufacturer named Patek Philippe. And wristwatches for men came soon after. This article states that the first wristwatches for men were produced after an officer in the German Imperial Navy, in 1880, “complained that operating a pocket watch was difficult when timing a bombardment,” so he strapped his pocket watch to his wrist, and that lead to small timepieces being attached to bracelets. And there you have your first wristwatches, friends!

My curiosity is quelled. We can all thank little Jack Burcher for today’s Editor’s Corner topic.

Donna Bradley Burcher |Technical Editor, Advisory | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

Pronouns she/her/hers

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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