Feb 12, 2014

Wildcard Wednesday
Killing Time

Every once in awhile I'll start to wonder about a phrase or old saying, and being the curious person I am, I end up spending copious amounts of time trying to trace its origins. Such is the case with the common phrase "killing time."

So, first stop was the on-line McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs, which defined killing time as:

to do something which is not very useful or interesting while you are waiting for time to pass. We usually play guessing games to kill time at airports.

By that definition, I'm the queen of killing time. I spend hours doing things that are not very useful. :-)

But why do we call it 'killing' time?

So I did a little more digging and stumbled across a period of Scottish history, from 1680 to 1688, that was called the Killing Time. While interesting, it had to do with conflicts between King Charles II and King James VII regarding the Church of Scotland, it didn't really have anything to do with the phrase.

Digging a little further brought me to the blog of William Thomas who posted an interesting article entitled: "Killing Time” in the Civil War. But while he cites some very interesting examples of the phrase, the origins of the phrase are unclear.

It might have been interesting to do some research in the local library, however a water pipe burst in it over the holidays and it's been closed for repairs every since. I guess in this case my curiosity will remain unsatisfied. So I will leave you with a few literary examples of the phrase in use:

But there was no help for it, so up stairs I went to my little room in the third floor, undressed myself as slowly as possible so as to kill time, and with a bitter sigh got between the sheets.
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

He had been known once or twice to yawn, and he had somewhat the appearance of a man engaged in an earnest but at times not altogether successful attempt to kill time.
The Illustrious Prince, by E. Phillips Oppenheim

In short, the generality of persons whom you see here may more properly be said to kill time in this place than in any other; and generally retire from hence more tired than from the longest sermon.
The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, by Henry Fielding

Men talk of killing time, quietly kills them
playwright Dion Boucicault, 1841

Ay, I know there are a set of malicious, prating, prudent gossips, both male and female, who murder characters to kill time ....
The School for Scandal, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

And now I think I've killed enough time with this post. ;-)

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