Forwards, not backwards

The equinoctes are a time for celebrating confusing idiom and useless mnemonics. Someone recently told me with pride that she knows a sure-fire way of remembering how the clocks go: “It’s spring back – no, spring forward – yes, spring forward – and then fall back because obviously Americans call it the fall because, well, I don’t know, because leaves are falling from the trees or something.”

The “spring forward, fall back” mnemonic isn’t completely useless, though. Although “spring back, fall forward” is also grammatical English, at least “spring forward, fall back” is more idiomatic, which means that the version more likely to trip off your tongue is actually the correct version. That’s rare and laudable in the world of mnemonics.  (Although, if you’ve been brought up on a diet of useless mnemonics, you may confidently be expecting the less idiomatic version to be the correct one.)

My real problem with “spring forward, fall back” is its limitations. It’s great for telling you what to do with your clocks, useless at telling you how to conceptualise time at this time of year. What I want is a mnemonic that tells me whether my imaginary hour is being lost or gained, whether mornings and evenings will seem lighter or darker, why on earth we go through this palaver twice a year, what time it “really” is. And no mnemonic could spring back under the weight of all that expectation.

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