Monday, November 11, 2013

Daylight Raving Time

The world recently made its annual conversion from daylight savings time to standard time. An occasional reader of this blog complains that even from such a fortress of pristine usage as NPR he hears “Daylight Savings Time,” instead of the correct “Daylight Saving Time” (without the added “s”).  He is quite right that “saving” is technically the proper form.  But the question then arises: is “saving” a present participle used in an adjectival sense, as in running water (“water that runs”) or is it a gerund, used as an adjectival noun, as in hunting season (a season for hunting).

Grammar guru Bryan Garner thinks that “savings” came into usage to avoid such confusion. As he explains: ““The rise of daylight savings time appears to have resulted from the avoidance of a miscue: when saving is used, readers might puzzle momentarily over whether saving is a gerund (the saving of daylight) or a participle (the time for saving). Using savings as the adjective—as in savings account or savings bond—makes perfect sense.  More than that, it ought to be accepted as the better form.”  Whichever form you prefer, says Garner, you can prevent most miscues by hyphenating the phrasal adjective: either daylight-savings time or daylight-saving time. 

Brits avoid all this—but in the process create their own ambiguity—by calling it “summer time.”  That might be taken to mean any time when the livin’ is easy.

Benjamin Franklin thought up daylight-savings time, in order to save money on candles (You know, “early to bed, early to rise, etc.”). During World War I, a number of countries adopted the plan in order to burn less coal.  The idea was revived again in World War II and then caught on almost universally because it was thought to save on electrical consumption. But some studies show it results in higher usage of electricity, as well as sleep deprivation, increased pollution, and greater frequency of heart attacks.

Today more than seventy countries (including every U. S. state except Arizona and Hawaii) adopt daylight savings time from March to November.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou doesn’t care what time it is since he’s been off the clock for decades. 

            The time has come, the walrus said, 
            To talk of many things, 
            Of why there’s daylight savings time 
            And Paul McCartney’s Wings, 
            And whether Justin Timberlake 
            Or Miley Cyrus sings.

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