Wordy Wednesday – “High time”

Here’s another Wordy Wednesday about time. I can’t really pinpoint why I enjoy discussing the subject. The entire thing confounds and confuses, what with its many concepts regarding relativity, linearity, chronology etc… And yet I’m still drawn to it. Right then, High Time – synonymous with ‘about time’. It is a phrase that refers to the best or latest time for something to happen. It can also mean that something is overdue and should be done right away. Grammatically speaking, the phrase is often paired with a subjunctive verb in the past tense. While it refers to the past, it is really mentioning the present moment the speaker is talking in.

The phrase is found in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, III. ii (1590s):

There’s none but witches do inhabit here;
And therefore ’tis high time that I were hence.
She that doth call me husband, even my soul
Doth for a wife abhor. But her fair sister,
Possess’d with such a gentle sovereign grace,
Of such enchanting presence and discourse,
Hath almost made me traitor to myself:
But, lest myself be guilty to self-wrong,
I’ll stop mine ears against the mermaid’s song.

The phrase’s exact definition varies with the context it is placed in. In The Comedy of Errors, Antipholus of Syracuse speaks of his desire to leave Ephesus, a place filled with ‘witches’ and other women who claim him and Dromio as their husbands. Antipholous could’ve just said “tis time that I were hence”, but “tis high time that I were hence” has a greater sense of immediacy to it.

As in the case above, ‘high time’ is often used to voice a strong opinion. It is a marvellous way to complain about something or someone, with just the right amount of subtleness. Take for example, the ever-pressing suburban annoyance of lawn mowing… ‘It’s high time you mowed the lawn. The grass won’t cut itself’.

Literary uses of the phrase can be found in a variety of sources, such as Tolkien: “It was now past mid-day, and they felt it was high time for lunch” (The Fellowship of the Ring), and Dickens: “…very few words were spoken; and everybody seemd to eat his utmost in self-defence, as if a famine were expected to set in before breakfast time to-morrow morning, and it had become high time to assert the first law of nature” (Martin Chuzzlewit).

And with that, it’s high time I ended this blog entry.

See you on Friday!
– Vineeta

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