May 25, 2017

“At Ten and Two” “At Your Three O’clock” “Clockwise” “Around the Clock”

These sayings all come from telling time on an old-fashioned clock, the kind of clock that is round and has numbers around the outside edges. In more ways than one, these sayings represent old technology that has been superseded by newer inventions. Those of us who grew up with this old technology sometimes don’t realize that younger people don’t understand us when we speak this way. Here’s hoping you find this information at least amusing! Maybe it will help you understand old movies, like “Star Wars.”

Definition: “At Ten and Two”

This means just up from the left and just up from the right sides of a circle.

Origin: “At Ten and Two”

See the photograph. This saying comes from the position of the numbers 10 and 2 on an old-fashioned face clock.

Uses: “At Ten and Two”

Where driver-education teachers told you to place your hands on the steering wheel, before there were air bags. (To my fellow older folks: This photograph shows where you should place your hands when driving, now that there are air bags inside steering wheels. Avoid hand-over-hand turning! The air bag can sever all the tendons in your wrists if they are in front of it when it deploys. For more such advice, see my series Ask an Adjuster Your Insurance Questions.)

Definition: “At Your Three O’clock”

This saying means something — usually an enemy, a target or a missile — is immediately to your right.

Origin: “At Your Three O’clock”

See the photograph. This is shorthand that came from imagining yourself at the center of a round clock. “O’clock” is short for “of the clock.”

Uses: “At Your Three O’clock”

This saying is used with every hour on the clock, not just with three o’clock. For example, if something is behind you it is “At your six o’clock,” or just “At your six.” You hear this a lot in military movies and science fiction movies where combat pilots talk to each other in the middle of battles.

Definition: “Clockwise”

Clockwise means going around in the same direction that the hands of an old-fashioned clock go around the clock.

Origin: “Clockwise”

See the photograph. For more information and a video of an old-fashioned grandfather clock, see the KnowABit article How To Read a Round Clock with Roman Numerals

Uses: “Clockwise”

This saying describes which direction to go around something — such as when running laps around a track. Going the opposite direction is called going “counter clockwise.”

Definition: “Around the Clock”

This saying means “24 hours a day,” or “all the time.”

Origin: “Around the Clock” (Also “‘Round the clock”)

This saying comes from the way you tell time on an old-fashioned face clock. It is a bit of a pun on the clock hands going around the clock.

Uses: “Around the Clock”

Restaurants, hospitals and other service providers advertise that they provide service “around the clock.” This means they are open or on-call at any time, day or night.


Old mainframe computers run on tapes that make transaction dates change at 1 p.m. People who are used to this think it is normal and casually use sayings that refer to it. Analog clocks are going the way of the Dodo Bird and the mainframe computer. People who grew up with them still know how to use them and talk about them. The younger generation consider them anachronisms.

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