Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Grammar moment: O'Clock

Since the word is part of my site's title, and since grammar is one of my major topics, even though this blog is in its very beginning stages, the search engines are sending seekers of knowledge this way when they use the words grammar and o'clock in the same search string. Here is a brief rundown on how to use o'clock.

First, the basics. O'clock is a contraction, short for of the clock. In a contraction, letters are taken out, and an apostrophe is substituted for the missing letters. That means the word isn't all run together without any punctuation. It also doesn't use a hyphen (this little short line - ).

When and how to capitalize o'clock is a trickier matter. Normally, you wouldn't capitalize anything, so it would be all lower case:

Willie really ticked me off when he phoned me at three o'clock in the morning.

If it shows up at the beginning of a sentence, you capitalize the O, but nothing else, just as you always capitalize the first letter of the first word of a sentence:

O'clock is a contraction, short for of the clock.

If it's part of a title, opinions vary. Some grammarians, and Microsoft Word's spelling checker, say you just capitalize the O. However, the rules for titles are that important words get capitalized, and if you go back to the original words that became the contraction, it's clear that clock is an important word. Therefore, I capitalize it.

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere.

Technically speaking, by that definition, I shouldn't capitalize the O, just the C. But I also draw on the tradition of Irish names -- all of the O'Connells and O'Gradys of the world capitalize both the O and the letter that comes after the apostrophe. Since that O also means of the, I have no trouble extending the same convention to O'Clock.


Anonymous Jesse said...

Top O' the Mornin' to ya.

Wed Aug 10, 08:17:00 AM MDT  
Anonymous jesse said...

You know, ya gotta wonder why top of the clock? Did we once have to distinguish from the sun dial? The hour glass?

Hey, what time is it?
Well, let's see,...why heavens! It's 5 o'hour-glass! We gotta get to the harpsichord concert pronto!

Fri Aug 12, 07:44:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Thuy said...

Can we say 15 o'clock? Tks.

Thu Nov 06, 01:20:00 AM MST  
Anonymous Rob Gilliam said...

I think you may be applying grammar rules too rigorously without considering common exceptions.

In this case, my primary school headmaster (trans. "elementary school principal") would have your guts for garters for not capitalising both the "O" and the "C" in O'Clock! (He's been dead 30 years, but if you find you're being haunted by the ghost of a stern Welsh Presbyterian, now you know why!)

That said, the English language changes as it is spoken and I suspect that this has fallen out favour as more and more people learn English as a second language and can't cope with (or prefer to ignore) the more specific exceptions.

@Jesse - exactly that. The term "of the clock" came about because "clock time" was often different (and more "accurate") compared to other methods of telling the time such as sundials. With the coming of the railways and the need for time to be maintained nationally, clock time and local sun time diverged even more widely the further you got from Greenwich (in the UK).

@Thuy no, because there isn't a number 15 on a standard clock. You can say "15 hundred hours" (or just "15 hundred" where context allows) to give an O'Clock time in 24 hour (aka military time) format.

Tue Mar 08, 02:40:00 AM MST  

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