A Quarter of Five

Today, someone asked me what time it was. It was 4:44.

“Four forty-five,” I said.

People seem more comfortable with chunks of five or fifteen when dealing with time, so I’ve gotten in the habit of rounding a little, even if I prefer being precise.

“Is that like quarter of five?” he asked in reply.

“Yeah, but less confusing.”

Really — what’s with measuring time in quarters or halves? Is this a generational thing? I’ve honestly never heard a single person my age or younger drop a “quarter of” or a “half-past”, but I grew up with my parents using those measurements all the time. It was hard to get a hang of, too, which is probably why I never picked up the habit myself.

“Quarter of five” at first gets you thinking it’s 5-something, but it really means 4:45! That’s darn confusing for a kid. Maybe I was a little slow, but I usually had to take a couple seconds just to do the math in my head:

Okay, so a quarter is fifteen minutes. A half is thirty.

“Of” basically means “minus.” “After” means “plus.”

Right, okay…

You have to picture the words in your head, too, but you have to read them backwards. “Quarter of five.” Take the five first; that’s the hour. The “of” is a minus sign. So you subtract a quarter, which is fifteen, and — 4:45! It’s 4:45!

Man, couldn’t we have just done that the easy way?

Even now, I have to add a split second of thinking time when there’s a “quarter of” or a “half-past” involved. And don’t get me started on the times it’s just left at that.

“Hey, what time is it?”

“Half-past.”

Cue my head exploding.

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