Fun Etymology Tuesday – Noon

Philosophical question: Is the Fun Etymology on time if it’s still technically Tuesday for one-fourth of the HLC? Or is it not?

Speaking of time, though, today’s word is ‘noon’.

It’s an iconic, evocative word. You don’t have to be American to recognize the tension of a duel at high noon: the streets tensely still, a saloon door creaking, and a tumbleweed rolling by as the sun blazes down from directly over the worn Stetsons of two coiled gunfighters. And you don’t have to be a hobbit to appreciate a quiet little midday nuncheon.

In English, short, everyday words like this tend to be part of the language’s core Germanic heritage, but in a surprising twist, this one isn’t. ‘Noon’ ultimately comes from the Latin word ‘nonus’ meaning…’ninth’. ¿Dice qué?

The term ‘non’ was borrowed back in Old English (hence its native-seeming skin) from the Latin phrase ‘nona hora’, meaning the ninth hour of daylight. In both Latin and Old English, the term referred to the hour of 3:00 PM, an important canonical prayer hour (called nones).

Beginning around the 12th century, the sense started to shift towards its current meaning of 12:00 PM. There are several hypotheses for why the meaning changed. It could have been the unreliability of timekeeping in the medieval period, or it could have been due to the dramatic seasonal differences in daylight hours in Northern Europe. It may even have been driven by food in some way: religious fasts traditionally ended at nones, so the time may have inched earlier to end the fasting earlier, or it may have come out of a secular societal shift in the timing of the midday meal. Whatever the reason, it became the ‘noon’ we know by the 14th century.

Whoever said monosyllabic words were boring?

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