Monday, January 26, 2015

That Time of Night

Having just last night heard Miss Marple refer to a fortnight, made me curious about the origins of that word. I learned that its rooting is “fourteen nights,” with fourteen contracted. Evidently it was ancient Germanic custom to count time by nights. Sennight was also once used in English, meaning “seven nights”; but that word is now classed as—the direction in which fortnight appears to be trending. To be sure, while laboring at Gale Research, which had its roots in old-fashioned publishing, senior editors and such were required to file fortnightly reports… This made me nod. We have two choices: count time by day or by night. Sure enough, such is human diversity over time, once in Germanic lands nights were the basis of counting. Online Etymology Dictionary tells me that Tacitus (56-117) made a note of this back in his own time. Mankind has followed every conceivable conceptual path available. One that came up in our morning discussion was the fact that one branch of Mazdaism, Zurvanism, held that God was Time. Time is a mysterious enough experience to stimulate human innovation.

3 comments:

  1. Many years have past since last I wrote a Fortnightly, as they were called by Fred.Ruffner, Gale Research's Founder and President. If memory serves, I wrote these reports not always, though quite often and appropriately, rather late at night on each fourteenth day...

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    1. I remember those times too -- with the lights still on long after bed-time...

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  2. Fortnight = fourteen nights, sennight = seven nights. Of course! I'd always wondered about the etymology, but never got around to looking it up. Thanks for the info.

    I'm relieved to say that the Fortnightly is a thing of the past hereabouts, though I dare say the sum total of reporting hasn't dwindled. It just takes different forms.

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