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Time and tide

Posted by Smokey Stover on February 17, 2005

In Reply to: No waiting posted by Henry on February 17, 2005

: : Several messages in 2004 dealt with 'tidings' and the origin of the phrase 'time and tide waits for no man'. The phrase can clearly be traced to the sixteenth century John Skot's Everyman, where Death is speaking about certainty. At least one respondent refers to Chaucer, but the phrase is to be found in neither Troilus and Chrysede nor in the prologue to the Clerk's Tale (Anthony Burgess, The Riverside Chaucer). Can anyone give an earlier citation than Skot?

: From the archives; ...its earliest form as 'For wete you well the tyde abydeth no man,' which appeared in Everyman (c. 1500).
: It's not certain that tide refers to the level of the sea. Tide is more likely to be a reference to time, as in Christmastide. The alliteration makes it memorable. Is the reference in Everyman related to the sea?

The OED gives numerous examples of time and tide in association and waiting for no one, using various wordings. The earliest that they give is from 1225. The OED believes that until the 16th century the meanings of time and tide were the same, at least in the various phrases cited, and that the users of the phrase like the alliteration of the reduplicative phrase. From the 16th century on, the notion of the tide in the modern sense seems to be understood by the users. Were it not for the synonymy of time and tide in the early uses, one would inevitably be reminded of the most famous example of the tide not waiting for any man, the example of King Alfred sitting on the shore ordering the tide not to come in. (It was an object lesson to his flattering minions; Alfred wot well that the tide would not wait on him.) SS