Chances are, if you were to look at your wrist right now, you’d see a watch on it. But why is that thing called a watch? I mean, do you have to watch a watch any more than you would a clock? Why not call it a “wrist-clock”? Why “watch”?
Well, according to the dictionary, the word “watch” has the same Old English etymology as the words “wake” & “awaken”. So, were the first watches alarm clocks? Obviously not. But, word historians speculate that “watch” is also derived from another Old English word that meant “to keep vigil”. And they say that the naming of our wrist clock actually had more to do with the fact that the timepieces were originally carried by night watchmen (who kept watch).
With that said, however, there’s another more fascinating (even if unverifiable) origin story for why we call a watch a watch. Back when watches were first introduced, clocks had no hour or minute hands. Instead, clocks just struck on the hour, meaning time was told strictly by auditory signal. (In fact, the word “clock” actually comes from the Latin word “cloca”, which means “bell”.) So, when watches came about, sporting both hour & minute hands, you had to literally “watch” your watch to figure out what time it was.
So that’s why a watch is a watch (even though I kind of like the sound of “wrist clock”…even if it is slightly wordier).
Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via social media (@AndyWebbRadioVoice), or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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