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day 9, on “killing” time. Please don’t!

Good morning!

Well, after an hour or so spent poring over the New York Times, and yesterday’s Seattle Times (which is silently delivered to our doorstep by a neighbor for recycling), I feel quite lucky and rather guilty for having the luxury to stay home instead of going to work at a hospital, grocery store, or Amazon warehouse. I’d readily volunteer to go out there and help in some way, but then again, the Governor wants us to stay home. Round and round we go….

Nevertheless, I am not the only “lucky” one who is stuck at home with time, lots and lots of “free time,” to fill. So, with a hearty “THANK YOU” to all the service workers, medical personnel, and other essential people who are going to work, we non-essential folks turn to the elephant in our rooms: how to pass all this time?  And why do we speak of “killing” such an intangible, fleeting entity?  For answers, I turn first  to the dictionary and then to a great novel.

A. The dictionary.    Kill, verb. (Prob. from Germanic word rel. to QUELL verb).*

Definitions nos. 1-3 pertain to ME [Middle English], so I’ll skip directly to more modern meanings. Confused about transitive & intransitive verbs? see below **

4. verb trans. Deprive (an organism, a substance, a process, etc.) of vitality, activity, effect, etc. Now also, destroy, break, or ruin (a thing).

5. verb trans.  a. Cause severe pain or suffering to; overexert (esp. oneself, doing). b. Overwhelm (a person) by a strong impression, as of admiration, anger, delight, grief, etc.; impress, thrill; convulse with laughter, refl laugh heartily.

6. verb trans.  Prevent the passing of (a bill) in Parliament.

7. verb trans. Spend (time) engaged in some activity, esp. while waiting for a specific event.

8. verb trans. Consume; eat or drink; spec. consume the entire contents of (a bottle of liquor). colloq.

9. verb trans. Cancel or delete (text etc.) from a book, journal, etc. before publication, or from a computer file. In Journalism, suppress or deny (a story etc.)

10. verb trans. Extinguish, turn off (a light, an engine, etc.), put out (a cigarette etc.) colloq.

From these definitions, one gathers the following analogies: killing is involved in depriving, destroying, preventing progress, waiting for an unspecified event, consuming (too much of something), cancelling, suppressing, or extinguishing things. It is altogether a bad bunch of thoughts.  So why do we persist in wanting to kill something as precious as time, that is, our already short lives?

Interesting, in French, they speak not of killing time but of losing time (perdre le temps): this points to all kinds of fascinating cultural differences…  Can you imagine a book called In Search of Killed Time?!  Haha, couldn’t resist  🙂

B. The Novel.  Since I have no answer to those questions, I offer a funny passage  instead. From Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence: the passage concerns the rather dull, yet respectable Welland family, whose daughter May has just married the hero, Newland Archer. Much to his chagrin, he is now realizing not only what a bore she is, but that his whole life is turning into a yawn:

“It was a principle in the Welland family that people’s days and hours should be what Mrs. Welland called ‘provided for.’ The melancholy possibility of having to ‘kill time’ (especially for those who did not care for whist or solitaire) was a vision that haunted her …

It was a cause of constant distress to Mrs. Welland that her son-in-law showed so little foresight in planning his days. Often already, during the fortnight that he had passed under her roof, when she inquired how he meant to spend his afternoon, he had answered paradoxically: ‘Oh, I think for a change I’ll just save it instead of spending it—‘ and once, when she and May had had to go on a long-postponed round of afternoon calls, he had confessed to having lain all the afternoon under a rock on the beach below the house.

‘Newland never seems to look ahead,’ Mrs. Welland once ventured to complain to her daughter; and May answered serenely: ‘No; but you see it doesn’t matter, because when there’s nothing particular to do he reads a book.’

‘Ah, yes–like his father!’ Mrs. Welland agreed, as if allowing for an inherited oddity; and after that the question of Newland’s unemployment was tacitly dropped.”***


The conclusion:  Stop the kill! Back to pleasure!  Embrace your oddities!  No ideas? See post no. 6, on the many ways to spend and even enjoy rather than kill your precious days.

Bye for now. I’ll be back tomorrow.


*The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), Vol. 1, p. 1495.

** What is the difference between a transitive verb and an intransitive verb?
A transitive verb (verb trans.) is a verb that requires a direct object, which is a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that follows the verb and completes the sentence’s meaning by indicating the person or thing that receives the action of the verb. The direct object typically answers the question what? or whom?  as in “The kids like pickles.”

An intransitive verb is not used with a direct object. If something comes after an intransitive verb, that is, in the position usually inhabited by the direct object, it doesn’t answer what? or whom?; instead it answers a question like where?, when?, how?, or how long?, as in “Her car died suddenly last week.”

With thanks to

*** Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence, 1st ed. 1920, ed. Maureen Howard (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2004), pp. 188-189.




2 replies on “day 9, on “killing” time. Please don’t!”

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