The biggest surprises tend to hide in plain sight. We’ve found this to be true with the origins of words like hello (check it out), and especially the somewhat naughty roots of Miss (read about that here.) With noon, we’ve uncovered a remarkable fact that will change how you think of 12:00.
First, some essential background. Clocks and watches are relatively new inventions. Though some timekeeping devices, like sundials and water clocks, have been used for thousands of years, everyday people did not tell time all that often. (The mechanical clock as we know it was invented in the 1200s and was more fully developed in the 1500s.)
In the Roman Empire about 2,000 years ago, the town bell told time for everyone in earshot, but the hours of the day were counted differently than today. In Greek, hour referred to any particular part of the day. In Latin, it came to mean “one twelfth of the day.” There were two cycles of twelve, as there are today, but rather than numbering the hours from midnight, like we do, the hours were numbered from the beginning of daylight. (Other languages, like Swahili, also number the hours in this fashion.)
The twelve-hour day was then divided into four periods of three hours each. The town bell rang at four intervals during the day to signal the time to all who could hear. The first hour, called Prime, rang at 6:00 a.m.; hour three (Terce) rang at 9:00 a.m.; hour six (Sext) rang at 12:00 p.m.; and hour nine (None) rang at 3:00 p.m. The early Catholic Church adopted these daily patterns in their rituals, and monks recited prayers at the canonical hours of terce, sext and none every day.
What does this have to do with “noon”? Well, the word for the ninth hour, specifically the ninth hour of daylight, so 3:00, became “non” in Old English. As church traditions changed, the canonical hours of “non” began to happen earlier, closer to 12:00 p.m. We still don’t know if the time of the midday meal shifted from 3:00 to 12:00 or whether the time of Church prayers shifted, or both, but by the early 1200s, “noon” came to mean midday. In the 1300s, the earliest mechanical clocks showed a 24-hour dial, but by the 1500s, the 12-hour dial, starting at midnight, became standard. (The word afternoon came into common usage around this time as well.)
The nomenclature around time telling has a rich and divergent history. The terms watch, clock, day, time, calendar, years, morning, evening, even a.m. and p.m. each have surprisingly distinct etymologies. Time seems to be one realm where the disparate roots of the English language (Greek, Celtic, Old English and others) fuse with the various social influences on the language (the Catholic Church, political conquests, and foreign invasions). Stay tuned for more explorations of the words of our days.
What about the months of the year? Learn about the history of September here.
What do you think of the changes of the word “noon”?
It would suck to not be able to tell time if you weren’t in ear shot. Thank god for scientists.
This is interesting. Technology has become accurate and precise in so many different ways. However, there are still imperfections. For example, it’s not 365 days in a year. It’s 365.25. That’s why there are Leap Years, consisting of an extra day. And what about Daylight Savings time and changing time an hour forward or back?
I wonder if people back then had time zones. Probably not. That’s a good invention technicians, scientists and mechanics have come up with.
Hooray for Human Intelligence Development!!!
Why did the canonical hours of “non” have to change as church traditions changed?
I thought it was 12:00 that was noon. Now you told us that, I am really surprised. How did that happen?
wierd, and cool
@jordan – but I think it would also be good. It’s easy to forget or not even realise that the measurement of time is a man-made invention. Not having to be concerned about what time it is sounds lovely!
Third comment! Who needs to be first when we are all winners inside.
Wow, I’d have to be one of those people that told time by the height of the sun, because I’d often not hear the bell strike. For, I’m one who tends to think a lot, and when I get into a deep trail of thought – I’m lost to the world of sight and sound.
As to the changing of what noon meant it little matters to me – as long as I know what it now means, and that it’s my lunchtime! It is interesting though how words can change meaning either by few degrees or drastically, wonder exactly how it comes to pass…I wonder…
Interesting! I realized something a little freaky, watch! If nowdays noon refers to 12:00, and clocks were made in the 1200s & back then noon ment 3:00, and clocks improved in the 1500s (in 24 hour time thats 3:00)….Isn’t that weird. I guess its just another coincidence…ps:i know the 1200s were first but its still perplexing…
I seem to remember I was once told that 12:00AM and 12:00PM does not exist. It is NOON or MIDNIGHT. Many years later, based on this, I fought a parking ticket that was issued at 12:00AM. I won.
I seem to remember I was once told that 12:00AM and 12:00PM does not exist. It is NOON or MIDNIGHT. Many years later, based on this, I fought a parking ticket that was issued at 12:00AM. I won.
How Interesting.. ^^ The world is such a mystery, soon our amazing scientists will probably come up with something totally new, OUTTA DIS WORLD
this was very suprising for me i didn’t know this i’m going to tell all my friends i think that they would be suprised too. I just thought that noon was well 12:00 i didn’t know that it was something different before this is so intersting. I feel smarter knowing this thanxs for telling us. XD
it’s me again i reread this i was wondering if the people forgot the time beacuse they could read it i don’t know maybe i have to reread
@J-Wu: Canonical hour of Non had to change with church tradition because Canonical means having to do with the church laws. It was a creation of the church. Notice in the text that canonical hours is first mentioned in connection with prayer times. Before that Prime, Terce, Sext and None were just agreed on hours or governmentally important hours.
@J-Wu: The Catholic Church started praying at noon instead of 3:00 because they took an arrow to the knee.
“Noon,” goes way back as a homonym, to Ptah T’Nun (Nun, Tanen) the most senior Egyptian who ruled 9000 (9-thousand) years: So, there’s the “9″… But his name, Nun, meant, river, in particular long rivers which divide the land in two parts: So, there’s the sense of the noon-meridian dividing the day in two parts, morning and afternoon, plus the sense of ‘Nin’ meaning secondary in old-Sumerian, (Nin, was usually Lady or Princess, but also a young male Prince’s lordship)….
But, What I really-really want for Christmas, is– True Metric Time, (the Hesit, a moment of hesitation a centigrad of one average solar-day, 2.16 sec., and the Demur, demi-hour/heur/uhr, a kilohesit or 1/40th of that same day, 36 minutes… It’s been centuries of learning metric without metric time!
Oh– and we shouldn’t leave out 90° (90 degrees) perpendicular –vertical in particular– noon: They probably had 36 hourlike divisions in their primordial ‘days’ from their prior planet: We know they started with 360 days/year, until they quickly repaired that to 365 days (They never got around to 365.2425).
I just have some concerns as to the grammatical point of the title of this article! Should it read as Why did “noon” use to mean 3:00? instead of Why did “noon” used to mean 3:00?
No intention to offend anybody. But it’s Dictionary.com, so…..
I.d like to make a comment on the origin of the word “hello” as used when we use the telephone.
As quoted in the link it used to be used in the form of “hallo” when the telephone was first invented.
Well, a little correction is needed here; when the manual telephone switchboards were first installed they started using that phrase. The Hungarian inventor Tivadar Puskás became very famous for inventing the telephone switchboard, as only after then were they able to use the telephone in the modern sence, as we use it today. Tivadar Puskás, while setting up his system used the phrase “hallod? hallod?” which means in Hungarian: Can you hear me? Just think about it; we still frantically resort to the phrase “hello” meaning Can you hear me? when there is a bad connection.
The truth is that long before the English language became an international language, more than a hundred years ago in Hungary, switchboard operators and customers alike used to use the phrase “hallo” when the connection was established between the two calling parties.
This phrase is still used in Hungary with the slightly deeper vowel sound as in “hallo” as opposed to the word “hello” used for greeting.
I have to say this. When stating a question starting with ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘where’, etc, in English we use the infinitive form of the verb. Therefore ‘Why did “noon” used to mean 3:00?’ Should be ‘Why did “noon” use to mean 3:00? Come on, you knew that, didn’t you?
Check your title: it’s not “…did noon used…”, but “…did noon use…”.
its intresting…it increase the knowledge wonderfull………
Haha… I find this first comment stuff pretty silly…. especially when they turn out not to be the first comment in the end… what’s the point?
As it happens, the Chinese noon used to mean the 11.00-13.00 interval. In ancient China, the day was divided into twelve intervals called shichens. ‘Noon’ was thus the middle shichen of the day.
Actually the day is 365.26 hours, explaining why 1996 and 2000 were leap years, as will be 2096, but not 2100. Years divisible by 100 are not leap years unless they are also divisible by 400.
Nice Article. But can someone explain what exactly is the difference between GMT, IST, PST, UTC and any other, if exists, and what standard time is followed globally and why?
Wow because of the great advances in “timekeeping” we now have to be at work at X time. Oh you’re late. How many hours did you work this week…here’s your pay. We could get run by the clock.
I’m not so sure that keeping exact time was such a good thing. Except maybe for scientific studies. Then again some quantum people tell us “time is an illusion anyway.”
To really throw us off, the Bible says that, the evening (sunset) is the beginning of the day. Go back and read the creation in Genesis 1 and note how it reads “the evening and the morning”.
Hey i just read tht and tht was so cool because i did not know tht but it stinks because now i cant eat until 3:00:);):D.
Ha Ha HA Ha HA HA HA Ah haha aha aha ha aha aha aha aha aha ah aha aha aha aha ah aha aha aha aha aha aha aha aha aha aha aha aha aha!!!!!
Very interesting article. Just one quibble – why do you talk about “12:00 pm”? It makes no sense.
When the first 12 hours of the divided 24 hour clock began at dawn and ended at sundown would mean that each hour during the daylight period of time was extremely long during the summer and extremely short during the winter at higher latitudes. Conversely, the night time hours would be extremely short in the summer and extremely long in the winter. That would have to be somewhat confusing.
Obviously, the only people who wouldn’t have to worry about the changing length of the hour would be those living close to the equator where each 12 hour period of time would be identical.
The history of the measurement of time is fascinating. Even in the US time wasn’t measured accurately (there wasn’t a need) until train travel made accurate measurement of time a necessity.
In 1714, England’s Parliament offered a huge reward to anyone whose method of measuring longitude could be proven successful. The scientific establishment–from Galileo to Sir Isaac Newton–had mapped the heavens in its certainty of a celestial answer. In stark contrast, one man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution–a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had been able to do on land.
Dava Sobel’s book Longitude is a fascinating read about this account.
I rarely need to know the exact time of day. I only need to know my appointments for the day and I have fairly good internal clock and of course reminders from my calendar. This is why I no longer need a watch.
@Lalapaloosy – uhm, did you READ the article? the very one you commented on explains in details HOW it changes. :/
Odd to see you make the mistake of calling noon “12 p.m.” If noon is the meridian, the “m,” then it most certainly cannot also be “post” or “after” its own self. Noon is 12 m.
If noon MUST be (for some unknown reason) either “ante” or “post,” it certainly makes more sense that the 12 goes with the 11 before it, rather than with the 1 after it. So, noon must be, logically, 12 a.m., if one wants such silliness of making the meridan either before or after itself.
This nonsense and confusion is why many statutes and contracts do not use noon or midnight at all, but rather 11:59 or 12:01. Otherwise, one hardly knows whether another is intending this or that day of the week.
Timezones were invented by the railroad. If it was noon in say New York, it would be 9am in Los Angelos. So that way the railroads could keep a schedule.
Reply for Dominique DHR Musiclover: I’ve been trying to figure out what DHR means, but I cannot. I also am a “Music Lover,” and I play the violoncello (a.k.a. “‘cello”) in several venues.
In your comments, you did not mention the fact that in “turn-of-the-Century” years which are not evenly divisible by 400, there is NOT a leap year observed. Therefore, 1800 and 1900 were NOT leap years, while 2000 was!
You used the term “Daylight Savings” time, which is not exactly correct: The proper way to say it is “Daylight Saving” (without an “S” at the end — look it up, and you can confirm this). DST was an invention of our own Benjamin Franklin, who observed that darkness fell much too early during warm-weather months, while many hours of daylight were being wasted, while people slept, during the early morning-time. (The idea was actually detrimental to one of his many businesses, which was as a candle-maker — so, if people used more sunlight, they would naturally need FEWER candles!) He was not successful at selling this idea to many people; they told him to “go fly a kite” — so he did exactly that! Due in large part to his early experiments with electricity, we now have electric lights (and not much need for very many candles). He was mighty fortunate that he did not get fried with his kite experiment! (He also invented the lightning-rod.)
No, the “people of yore” did NOT use “time zones” — that came MUCH later, a product of the American railroads, when “high-speed” traffic was in its early stages.
” (The mechanical clock as we know it was invented in the 1200s and was more fully developed in the 1500s.)”
Actually, we would be appalled by the clocks of this 400 year period as they were only generally accurate. It was not until John Harrison decided he wanted to win the Longitude Prize in the 18th century that we had a clock, and later a watch, that could keep time accurately by modern standards over several days or weeks. And these were considered so uncannily accurate that they were locked away for a period!
For more, I highly recommend:
…which is based on Dava Sobel’s book, Longitude.
You also wrote:
“….Well, the word for the ninth hour, specifically the ninth hour of daylight, so 3:00, became “non” in Old English.”
I’m not sure I’m finding a VERB in this sentence?
@Festy- The measurement of time isn’t actually an invention of man. Time was measured (in “days”) before man was made. We have just fine-tuned its measurement.
But I digress. It is cool that I get to have lunch earlier now! ^-^
Why “did” noon “used” to mean 3:00? What’s with the double past? Why not go whole-hog and say “Why did noon used meant 3:00?”
@Christine- became is the verb you’re looking for.
The verb you are seeking is “became” but, you’re right, that is a rather convoluted sentence.
Also, isn’t it interesting how the word “accurate” has become even more accurate with the passing of time?
There is a really good show on PBS about how states got their shapes. It also goes into the time zones and how they were established with the railroad. Very interesting stuff when you look at all the things we take for granted.
With our standardized timekeeping, we need the terms noon and midnight to refer unambiguously to the two 12s. Since a.m. and p.m. fall on either side of 12:00:00, neither 12:00:00 can actually be in either the a.m. or p.m. category, so it’s more precise to refer to 12:00:00pm as noon… or is it 12:00:00am that’s noon, I can’t remember!
Also, @Dominique, you’re right…and wrong! We have come a long way in trying to perfect time keeping, but there hasn’t been 365.25 days per year since we replaced the Julian calendar with the present Gregorian (the transition for which was quite tumultuous!). Now, there are on average 365.2425 days per year with a leap year every 4 years EXCEPT on centurial years unless it’s the 4th in a series of those! (confusing huh?)
I think it’s interesting that after all the pain of calendar reform and the overturn of the Julian system (from yes, Julius Caesar), most of the educated world still thinks we have 365.25 days per year, unaware of the reform!
I suppose its also true that few have pondered how 12:00:00 can be neither a.m. nor p.m. as well?
nah.. head ache
[...] not for ‘Noon’ — No ‘Nooner’ — or would the lunch break be much sooner — With a [...]
Languages and cultures can be very different across the globe, but when it comes to telling time, the various cultures seem to have one thing in common: they all divide the day into factors of 12 and 3. Personally, I think it has to do with the rate of heartbeats, which are pretty much the same, regardless of what race you are.
I wonder if this had anything to do with the “Witching Hour” being changed from 3AM to 12AM.
I recommend a book about the establishment of Standard Time and time zones: by Clark Blaise, “Sir Standford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time.”
The railroads didn’t invent time zones – but they benefited from them.
It is possible that older “noon,” nineth hour, designated @ 3:00 as day break back then in the morning when it is 6:00.
Forgive me, not counting the church rituals and such, and then the later/newer “noon”, gradually began to begin @ midnight, and it would be a mighty LONG day, or period of time–15 hours–to wait for diner/midday meal especially when one is famished!
Thank you very much for a nice article.
@Dominique DHR Musiclover:
- There are actually 365.2425 days in a mean year, excluding leap seconds.
- Daylight Savings Time has nothing to do with imperfections in science; it was created by political idiocy.
Regarding leap years, they are necessary because the Earth does not have a precise integer number of rotations about its axis for each complete orbit around the sun. This strange decimal number (.2425) is actually the result of scientific excellence, to account for this slight rotation overshot. The current Gregorian calendar and leap year rules are so accurate, that leap seconds can not be predicted in the long-term. They are dynamically added to correct for unpredictable anomalies (detected by astronomical observations), which are far more significant in affecting the Earth’s rotation and orbit, than inaccuracies in the Gregorian calendar algorithm.
As for Daylight Savings Time, that was created by politicians in a misguided belief that it would conserve energy. By setting the clocks ahead in the summer, people would wake up earlier (compared to “true” solar time) and make more use of the daylight hours (rather than sleeping through the dawn). Of course, its easier to just change your schedule for the season, rather than mess around with the entire country’s clock reference. Especially since DST relapses cause problems for many automated systems, and has even been the cause of industrial accidents. Most countries around the world are now starting to abolish DST, and if citizens want to be awake at dawn, they just get up at an earlier time during the summer season. It has nothing to do with science. It’s all politics.
12:00 p.m. is not noon.
The abbreviations a.m. and p.m. stand for the Latin phrases “ante meridiem” (before noon) and “post meridiem” (after noon). (The Latin word for noon, “meridies,” changes to meridiem when used with the prepositions “ante” and “post.”)
In English, we would represent noon and its adjacent times as follows:
11:59 before noon
12:01 after noon
Substituting Latin for the English phrases gives us:
11:59 ante meridiem
12:01 post meridiem
Abbreviate the Latin phrases, and we have:
Noon, therefore, is properly expressed as 12:00 m.
Midnight is 12:00 p.m.
There is no such time as 12:00 a.m.
@jordan- Thank God for radio-controlled, second-accurate watches which are solar powered and never need battery changes.
Unfortunately, scientists have yet to come up with a portable timepiece which include more buttons, making it easier to use, and a scrach-resistant casing for 600 bucks.
(1st and 2nd not 3rd)
Oddly-enough, the 9th hour, using the longer double-hour [*] measured from the prior evening 6pm as the start of the new day, is, in fact, 12m (noon) … Maybe the 3pm just got the start of the day and the length of the hour, confused… happens all the time that-side of the world….
* [cf Gilgamesh hiked "12 double-hours"]
P.S. And to the question re am vs. pm vs. m– am is antemeridian before noon, m is meridian noon, pm is postmeridian afternoon … 12 am is antimerdian midst-(middest)-night opposite noon… And the reason we get 12am for 12m, is that small measure is truncated (down), so 12 o’clock as its measure, not an estimate of when but of reading, represents everything after-noon… Computers weren’t the first to count from Zero.
@ Raymond: I would agree with with you that 12 m may be correct for midnight instead of 12:00 pm. Then 0 m would be noon. Only the United States uses 12:00 pm to represent noon. In all other countries, as far as I am aware, 12:00 pm is midnight and 12:00 am is noon. This infers that 00:00 pm is noon and 00:00 am is midnight.
Non, Noon, Nap, Oui?
The confusion comes because people are not used to using ‘0′ as the first value, which they SHOULD. It is why we got the centuries all one ahead of themselves. The clock at midnight should read 0:00am and a minute later it would be 0:01am – Zero hours and 1 minutes. Then after 11:59 on the morning we should go to 0:00pm. It is terribly confusing to start the day and after noon carrying over the hours but trying to explain it with the AM or PM descriptor. It is not a hard adjustment, just replace the 12 with a 0 and it all makes sense. Lets start a campaign for common sense with timing.
Well its ‘noon’ here for me
Midnight is 12:00 am because midnight only exists for an infinitely small amount of time. As soon as that infinitely small amount of time has elapsed, it is now some time within the new day, before its noon. But since a clock with minute-precision is still displaying “12:00″ for almost 60 more seconds after that infinitely small “midnight”, it makes sense to append “A.M.” during this time display. (If “P.M.” was appended, that would imply the time still belongs to the previous day’s post-meridiem, which is wrong.)
As for noon, the same reasoning applies; it is only noon for an infinitely small duration starting at 12:00, and then immediately after that it’s post-meridiem. But the clock is still displaying 12:00 for nearly 60 more seconds.
What IS stupid is that midnight and noon are referred to as 12:00, instead of 00:00. Since time counts upwards from an epoch implied at zero (which is why 01:00 is 1 hour past the epoch, 02:00 is 2 hours past the epoch, etc.), the epoch should be written as 00:00
Of course, that was all fixed with 24-hour time, where midnight is properly written as 00:00, and 12:00 means 12 hours since the start of the day (ie. noon), and nothing else.
Now if only the world could abolish Daylight Saving Time, and everyone adopt 24-hour time, all the idiosyncrasies of horology would become a thing of the past.
That’s gotta be the longest comment i ever read Justin O_O anywayz yeah that’s pretty odd that noon once was 3:00 i would never be able to adjust to that time nor be able to wait that long for lunch
@ Justin: I agree that life may be simpler for international business, travel and communications if the world used a 24 hr clock and abolished daylight savings time. However, I must disagree with you regarding Midnight and noon. Midnight should be 12:00 pm (assuming we haven’t got the sense to call it just 0 am or 0:00 am as recommended by “Justin” above) and one second past is 12:00:01 am. Referring to 12:00 am as midnight when written down or stated makes more sense as it relates to the meridian (as mentioned by “Raymond” above). You only have to suffer it as erroneous for less than a second when reading a clock rather than completely erroneous when you write it down. Similarly for Noon.
@stewart. I agree we all should use 0 at midnight. But have you ever heard of military time. You start with 0:00am and end with 23:59pm
I think it would be awesome to never know what time it is. Just live life… Oh, I forgot that you’re not living unless your I-phone is synched with your laptop so that your calendar automatically updates when they decide to air a 2 hour episode of American Idol instead the standard 1 hour.
“. . . . more than a hundred years ago in Hungary, switchboard operators and customers alike used to use the phrase ‘hallo’ when the connection was established . . . . Steve Taylor” … Steve: English “hello” is much older than telephony. Like many of our words it’s of Norman French origin, “ho-la,” roughly “whoa there,” reinforcing Old High German “hola,” meaning “fetch!” and used to hail a ferryman. The vowels have changed capriciously over the centuries. . . . .”But can someone explain what exactly is the difference between GMT, IST, PST, UTC and any other, if exists, and what standard time is followed globally and why? . . . . Jauhari” . . . . Jauhari: GMT is Greenwich Mean Time, the time at the north-south line of zero longitude, which passes through the Greenwich Observatory in England. It is the universal reference standard for time. In international communication, for clarity, people often indicate their own time as, e.g., GMT+3:00. The terms “UTC” (Coordinated Universal Time) and “Zulu” (military jargon) are also used. PST is Pacific Standard Time, the time zone in California, Oregon and other western U.S. States, which is GMT/UTC-7:00 . . . . “If noon MUST be (for some unknown reason) either “ante” or “post,” it certainly makes more sense that the 12 goes with the 11 before it, rather than with the 1 after it. So, noon must be, logically, 12 a.m. . . . Raymond” . . . . Raymond: For communication standards, twelve o’clock must conform to the same convention as any other time of day. 12m (“meridiem”) is okay among you and your wise friends (quick then, how do you write midnight?), but for the rest of us it needs to follow a standard convention. You have a point that if the previous hour was 11am then this one should be 12am. But it is much more persuasively argued that if the very next second will be 12:00:01pm, then surely the second that elapsed while we were talking about it must have been 12:00:00pm, to avoid confusion. Sure, it would be a better world if midnight were 0:00:00am and noon were 0:00:00pm, but we can probably find some more important and less quixotic crusades to put our finite energy into.
All of the preceding are the reasons I won my traffic ticket (See Dec. 14, 5:57PM). There is too much ambiguity when someone uses 12AM or 12PM. Law does not like ambiguity. Neither should we. By the way, how many angels can… die on the head of a pin?
It must took you a lot of time and energy to find these original materials, I’ve learned a lot through all your articals, I will read every one you post, thank you so much
Midnight CANNOT be the beginning of a day, can it?
Like midnight Saturday-Sunday cannot be the end of Saturday and the beginning of Sunday. At 12 or 1 or even 3 am for that matter, we are still in Saturday.