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Re: Passing the time of day

Posted by Smokey Stover on April 02, 2008 at 18:10:

In Reply to: Passing the time of day posted by Ryan on April 02, 2008 at 09:06:

: Where does the phrase 'passing the time of day' come from? Some say maybe it has a military meaning.

The Oxford English Dictionary has considerable discussion of the various ways "pass" has been used. In regard to passing time, or the time of day, it has this:

"11. c. trans[itive]. To spend or use up (a period of time) engaged in a particular activity, or while in a particular place; to occupy (time) while it passes.
Freq. with transferred epithet indicating the manner or state of mind in which a person spends a period of time, as to pass a restless night (i.e. to pass a night restlessly), etc.
c. trans. To spend or use up (a period of time) engaged in a particular activity, or while in a particular place; to occupy (time) while it passes.
Freq. with transferred epithet indicating the manner or state of mind in which a person spends a period of time, as to pass a restless night (i.e. to pass a night restlessly), etc."

The examples cited by the OED begin with one from 1340 that I have omitted, as it uses Old English orthography.
"GOWER Confessio Amantis (Fairf.) I. 2175 Thus passen thei that wofull nyht. a1425 (?a1400) CHAUCER Romaunt Rose 3979 Many an Aprill and many a May We han passed, not ashamed. a1525 G. MYLL Spectakle of Luf in W. A. Craigie Asloan MS I. 272, I tuk a lytill buk in Latyn to pas mye tyme. 1597 SHAKESPEARE Richard III I. iv. 2 Oh I haue past a miserable night, So full of vgly sights, of gastly dreames. 1674 R. BOYLE Excellency Theol. I. i. 35 A very pleasant way of passing one's time. . . ."

Passing the time gave rise to the word "pastime," which means an agreeable, or at least a common, way of passing the time, which the OED finds from c1489.

I don't know what difference the phrase "of day" adds to the meaning other than to specify daytime as opposed to nighttime. Do you have a citation from someone suggesting a military meaning?