So this is my four hundredth writing tip. Cue the confetti shaped like commas? The party horns? The shout-outs about my books and my newsletter, ready for more readers and subscribers? I admittedly thought about it, but I’ll save the hoopla for another day. With so much going on in the world at the moment, this author’s little celebration wrapped up in an explanation of “Past Time” vs. “Pastime” can wait. There are so many bigger causes to focus on.
Perhaps you could say that it’s “past time” that Merriam Webster added a new definition of “racism” to the dictionary, a landmark change that happened this week. Perhaps you could say that closely examining language, how we use it, and how it can empower us all is my favorite “pastime.” Do you see the difference in these two spellings?
Words, in all of their subtleties, matter. But you know that by now, don’t you?
- “Past time,” as two words, is often written in a sentence like “It’s past time that…” It’s a reference to something being overdue, to something that should have happened already. “Past time” could also simply be a reference to a “time” in the “past,” as in something historical.
- “Pastime” is a noun, meaning something that one might do regularly in their free time.
- “To pass time” is, of course, different still—because the English language likes to keep you on your toes. “To pass time” means to spend time doing something, anything, while time goes by.
The word “pastime,” as in that hobby, comes from the squishing together of “pass” and “time,” not a squishing together of “past” and “time.” Sure “squishing together” isn’t the technical phrase. You can see where the same transformation happened in “nowadays” and “troubleshoot.” We could talk truncation or near-portmanteau’s but I feel you falling asleep just as I’m jotting down this very sentence. As always, knowing the jargon is far less important than knowing how to use language properly.
“Pastime” has been used since the 15th century—that’s the 1400s, everybody. And I can only imagine how pastimes have changed since that time. So much in the world has changed since then. So much is still changing day by day in our present reality.
Am I dating this language tip like I never do in any others? That would be an affirmative. Why is this important? Because this is Writing Tip #400. Because language is important. What words and phrases mean, how they are understood, and how we discuss them are all ideas that are important. The language that trickles out of our mouths needs to be thoughtful and intentional. Ignorance is no excuse. It’s true with grammar, and it’s true with so much else.
Happy 400th writing tip, all—eight years in the making. Now get out there and use your words well. See where they might take both you and the world!
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