Thursday, March 21, 2013

Language of Confusion: About Times

Sometimes, I write a post simply so I can use the title I came up for it.

Future first showed up in the late fourteenth centuryfrom the Old French futur. The classical Latinform of the word is futura, coming from futurus and futurum, or “going to be” so you can see why we started using it to reference the time after the present. That futurum is literally translated as “going to be” is kind of interesting. It makes it a form of esse—to be—which sounds totally crazy until you realize that that kind of thing happens all the time in languages. See, futurus is what’s known as an irregular suppletive, basically a form of a word that’s completely different from other forms, like am/is/are or go/went. So because Latin speakers had a weird word form for “going to be”, we have the word future.

Present—the time present—first showed up in the fourteenth century, at the same time as the “I present to you” present and a century after the “gift” present. Time present comes from the Old French present and classical Latin praesentem(same meaning), from the verb praeesse, or “be at hand”. As you can see, that’s a mix of the prefix prae- (before) and suffix esse. Oh, and the other meanings of present are also related to praeesse, but that’s a story for another day.

Finally, we have past. The time period past didn’t show up until the 1580s, much later than the other ones. It came from the other definition of past, as you would say “the past year”, which showed up in the fourteenth century. It’s the adjective form of “to pass”, which appeared a few decades earlier from the Old French passer and Vulgar Latinpassare, “to walk or pass”. Because it can be both literal and figurative, we now have a lot of words related to pass.



  1. "Sometimes, I write a post simply so I can use the title I came up for it."

    ROFL xD

    (Thank goodness I'm not the only one.)

  2. So, present didn't come about as...What is that saying? The one where the future is unwritten, the past is gone, but the present is a gift to us. I can't remember how it goes, but since it's inaccurate, people can stop saying it. Right?

  3. Ironic that past came last, isn't it?

  4. And I don't think I've heard that quote before, Liz... at least most of it. I've heard of the future being unwritten.

  5. "Sometimes, I write a post simply so I can use the title I came up for it" hehehe I think all writers do that hah!
    Nice analysis, yeah its weird that past came last...
    Clenia Gigi


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