Monday, September 15, 2008

going places...going times?

Regular reader Robert WMG wrote in the autumn/fall with the following (and I'm rushing to respond to it before I have to shame myself by writing 'last autumn/fall'):
While talking to a Canadian friend, I said "It's gone five" (meaning "it's after five o'clock" but with definite connotations, depending on context, of "it's later than I thought" or "we're going to be late" or "we're late"). She said that without very strong contextual clues this would be incomprehensible in N. America. Any comments?
Robert describes the situation well. One issue that's not clear is what the 's stands for. You almost always hear it with the 's contracted: it's gone five rather than it has gone five or it is gone five. (See this post for further discussion of it's gone in BrE and AmE.) So, which is it, is or has? Either, it seems. Perhaps BrE speakers out there can enlighten us as to whether they can see any difference in meaning or dialect in the following examples (I searched for the past tense because it was easier):
It was gone four o'clock by the time we left the restaurant so whatever the hell we were talking about it must have been good. (from 'Star Blog')

With that cheeky grin she wished me a happy birthday (it had gone 12 o'clock by now) and that was it, and pardon the pun but for me it was a 'perfect day'. (from kirstymaccoll.com)
(For what it's worth, London-born Better Half thinks the was gone version sounds 'just wrong', but concedes that it might set up things a bit differently in a narrative.)

BrE speakers can also use gone for peoples' ages (with mostly the same connotations as Robert gave for the time-telling gone), i.e. He's gone 60 ('he's over sixty already'). Algeo's British or American English? counts both of these uses of gone as prepositions. If it's a preposition, then you'd use it with a form of the verb to be, but if it's a past-participle form of the verb to go, then you'd generally use it with a form of to have. Of course, the preposition is historically the same word as the participle, but it's drifted away from it to a different (more grammatical/functional) part-of-speech--that is to say, it has undergone grammaticali{s/z}ation.

Another BrE-particular temporal gone is the use of gone as a post-nominal (i.e. after the noun) modifier that means 'ago', as in this example from kultureflash (London):
With Batman a decade gone, Spiderman and Daredevil hits, and Ang Lee's Hulk promising to smash, it's a KA-POW comic book dreamworld just now.
You might hear this in AmE, but then the gone would almost certainly mean 'dead', and it would be found in newspaper memorials (advertisements placed by mourners to remember their dead) and the like (e.g. a decade gone, but not forgotten).

Another use that I believe is mostly BrE (having a hard time confirming its dialect, but I'm pretty sure I'm right about this) is post-nominal gone to mean 'pregnant', as in this travel(l)ing-while-pregnant story from The Times:
Four months gone, over the sickness and constantly hungry, I was delighted to find that they had one restaurant serving European and Egyptian specialities and another specialising in modern Indian which satisfied my cravings for spicy food and yoghurt.
I used this on occasion while pregnant, but it always seemed to me to have an unpleasant connotation that I couldn't quite put my finger on. It reminded me of (BrE) up the duff, in that it sounded to me like pregnancy was somehow foisted upon me and that it was not a socially acceptable state to be in. I would love to hear from folks who use X months gone more naturally than I do on whether it has those connotations for you. So...comment away!

42 comments:

Lauren said...

it sounded to me like pregnancy was somehow foisted upon me and that it was not a socially acceptable state to be in.

For me it was completely the opposite - to me it sounds more polite, or delicate.

I couldn't use the 'p' word for months - I said 'I'm nine weeks gone'.

Not that I'm polite and delicate - I was just freaked out by what I'd been and gone and done!

wtanksley said...

To me, an American with broad reading habits but little travel, I find:

+ "was gone 4:00" seems just wrong.
+ "it had gone 12 o'clock" seems to be using "it" to refer to a specific clock tolling the time. Perhaps there are historic reasons for this being used in general.
+ "With Batman a decade gone" makes perfect sense, and is probably something I'd use in normal speech.
+ "He's gone 60" I'd understand, but it grates.
+ "Four months gone"; like you, I'd hear that as very informal.

RWMG said...

Thanks for answering, Lynn. It's nearly my birthday, so I shall count it as a birthday present -- you obviously knew and were saving it up.

Both your examples sound OK to me, but in different contexts. I think this 'gone' has a completely screwy tense system:
Present = 's gone
Past = was gone
Past Perfect = had gone.

I think you're right about vaguely negative connotations for 'gone' meaning pregnant. To me, it does have a slight idea of an unexpected, unwanted pregnancy. I wonder if at an earlier period it meant pregnant out of wedlock?

Joe said...

Would the British understand the American phrase "going sixty" meaning "traveling at 60 miles per hour"? If so, do they use the same phrase with the unit of measurement being kilometers rather than miles?

lauren said...

Would the British understand the American phrase "going sixty" meaning "traveling at 60 miles per hour"? If so, do they use the same phrase with the unit of measurement being kilometers rather than miles?

Brits would say 'doing 60' - and they would mean miles per hour, as they would not have the faintest idea how fast 60 kilometres works out as...

anne t. said...

American, I say how far along, or how many months along. Gone sounds like you are anxious for it to be over. (Making slash marks on the wall where you are confined.) That or kind of overdone, like gone to seed or gone to pot. Gone sixty sounds like that a bit to me too. "Gone and turned sixty" is more possible, and "gone and got pregnant" - as a kind of disapproval, gone and done something against one's better judgement or without approval.

Anne t. said...

This post reminds me how every morning walking to first grade, I would ask the crossing guard what time it was and she would say every time "quarter of" or "five of" or whatever it was. I always asked her, "quarter to WHAT". She was always exasperated, why, quarter to eight of course. My sense of time has only improved a little since then.

Alexandria said...

What about the British propensity to describe expectant mothers as having "fallen pregnant" as if it were some shameful accident?

Anonymous said...

(BrE speaker). "was gone" and "had gone" seem to me to have slightly different meanings: "had gone" has a much stronger implication of lateness (had gone, never to be seen again) but "was gone" is a bit more neutral -- not much more than a statement of the time. E.g. "What time did you go to bed last night?" "It was gone midnight" or "It had gone 3AM!". But I would use "was gone" much less.

"Gone 60" sounds very jokey to me -- like an explicit stretching of the normal usage of "gone" for effect. Definitely not something I would say.

And I definitely wouldn't agree "gone" means "pregnant"! In that usage it can be used for anything that has a term (like a prison sentence or a contract).

Jill said...

I (AmE speaker living in England) don't think "fall pregnant" sounds shameful in English ears. I heard a comedian give a funny monologue on The Now Show a few months ago in which she was mocking her own middle class background, saying that she loved living in Brixton (a rather "challenging" part of London) until she fell pregnant, when suddenly it was, "Oh, gotta go. I hear Surrey calling!"

But she used the phrase "fell pregnant" about herself with not the slightest indication that said condition was a problem. I think "fall pregnant" is analogous with "fall ill" in the same way Americans say "get pregnant" or "get sick". Using the same grammatical structure doesn't in this case imply a similar attitude about the condition.

But I'd love to hear someone English describe how it sounds to them.

lynneguist said...

@rmwg: Happy Birthday!

But on the grammatical point:

The past (as opposed to perfect) form of 'it had gone 3 o'clock' is 'it went 3 o'clock', and the perfect form of 'it was gone 3 o'clock' is 'it had been gone 3 o'clock'. The two forms 'It had gone x' and 'It was gone x' are not in any direct tense/aspect reltaionship to one another. It still may be the case that 'had gone' has a perfect aspect to it (I think it does) as opposed to 'was gone', but one is not a different form of the other in grammatical terms.

@most recent anon: on 'gone' = 'pregnant', the prison case seems more like the death case. 'He's three months gone'--in that case he's actually gone (not here). One could also use it (in BrE) for someone who's moved away. But that's not the case when people use it of pregnant women, they've not gone anywhere. The test is whether one could say 'She's three months gone' without additional context and have it understood as meaning 'she's three months pregnant' as opposed to 'she's (been) three months away from here' or 'she's three months old' etc. Can anyone give us evidence of someplace where the previous context does not indicate pregnancy, but that's the interpretation?

Adam G said...

Does (BrE) up the duff roughly correspond to (AmE) knocked up?

Adam G said...

@Joe and lauren:

FWIW, Canadians (at least in Southwestern Ontario) use both "doing x" and "going x" to refer to travelling at a speed of x. The units of measure would almost always be km/h, unless the event took place before metrication. Metrication took place in the mid 1970s.

nineveh-uk said...

I (BrE, in the UK), agree with Jill. There’s nothing derogatory/accidental in having “fallen pregnant”. Less overtly biological than “conceived”, more euphonious than “got pregnant” (shudder),

disgruntled said...

British - I'd be hard put to say what the 's means in 'it's gone five' - perhaps like the 's in the possessive ('John's watch' originally being 'John, his watch') it's lost any sense of having an expansion that would be used in formal speech. If pressed I'd say 'is'...

Now can anyone explain what the Scots 'back of nine' means? As in 'I'll meet you in the pub back of nine'?

Anonymous said...

I disagree that the prison case is the same as the death case. I had in mind one prisoner talking to another inside (neither of them having gone anywhere): "what's your sentence?", "2 years -- 5 months gone". Or consider: "I hate this phone but I can't get a new one: I have an 18 month contract with only 3 months gone".

I agree pregnancy is the most usual usage but that is just because that is the most common fixed term we encounter, not because "gone" is especially related to pregnancy. I would never expect anyone to understand me if I just suddenly said "my wife is four months gone" without them already knowing she was pregnant.

Hazel said...

This British speaker thinks 'was gone' sounds just fine in the first example.

JaxCA said...

Joe,

I would say "going sixty" rather than "doing sixty" to indicate automotive speed, or at least I would if it were actually possible to do or go sixty on a freeway in Los Angeles.

JaxCA said...

Oops -- meant to say I'd probably say I was "going sixty." It's too early here and I am antemeridionally challenged.

Abashed in CA said...

Last try -- I day "doing sixty"! Acch. Remind me not to post anything before noon again. Ever.

Max said...

For me (BrE)
It was gone four o'clock by the time we left the restaurant so whatever the hell we were talking about it must have been good. (from 'Star Blog')
sounds just fine, with it was gone 4 = it was past 4, while it had gone 4 sounds distinctly odd, with transitive use of go of doubtful grammaticality --the whole hog can be gone, but not much else. Thus it will be gone 4 (by the time we get there) is also fine, but ??it will have gone 4.

the_sybil said...

I (BrE speaker) always feel as if the expression "fell pregnant" sounds as if pregnancy were a slightly shameful accident. It was not, however, an expression commonly used in the South-East of England, where I grew up.

"Six months gone" on the other hand, sounds completely normal and free of perjorative bias to me. But I prbably wouldn't use it unless the pregnancy context was obvious.

This reminds me of an incident in Sheffield once, when I was suffering from a gyn(a)ecological complaint and bumped into someone I knew at the doctor's (BrE)surgery/(AmE) office. She asked what was wrong, and I said "women's problems" (can't think what made me use such an awful euphemism). She looked terribly shocked - it was only later that I discovered that in the local dialect I was implying I needed an abortion.

Cameron said...

Disgruntled, it never occurred to me (ScE) that "the back of nine" would need any explanation, nor probably that it was even dialectal. As before a particular hour is in front of it, as in forenoon, so after the hour is at its back. So "the back of nine" is "just after nine."

Andanzadora said...

BrE (north west), and to me the 's can be either is or has depending on context: with "to be" the meaning is fairly general and just stating a fact, whereas "to have" kind of implies lateness.

"It was just gone five when she called."

"It had gone five by the time my train turned up!"


"She's four months gone" meaning "four months pregnant" sounds fairly normal, although you would at least need to know the subject was pregnant to understand it. Another way to put it that I've heard more is "she's four months along" which would need no explanation to be understood to mean pregnant.


However, "With Batman a decade gone..." sounds to me like it's been over and done with for a decade.

Alexis said...

Funny, even with two years of daily British dialect exposure, any usage of "gone" for times, other than "It's just gone N", where N is an hour, sounds odd to me. I always assumed 's was 'has', but the expanded version sounds weird either way, and the sentence sounds weird without the 'just' modifier. This fixed expression apparently traveled back with me because I still find myself occasionally saying "Oh, it's just gone five" when someone asks me what time it is. No one has ever asked me about it, strangely.

Now I'm going to be on the lookout for it during my trip.

biochemist said...

Isn't the is/has confusion a result of the parallel with past/passed?

It was past (after) four o'clock

It (the time) had passed midnight

Gone would be the less formal way of saying this, and there's only one way to spell it!

disgruntled said...

@Cameron - I had a colleague who used this ('back of nine') at a very international conference, and I think the scientists spent the rest of the week dissecting what it might possibly mean. He refused to explain, partly I think because it kept his options open and could arrive any time between nine and ten ('back of nine' to me sounded like 'back end of nine' - ie, possibly almost ten) and partly because, like you, he thought it ws obvious (and mostly I think because it amused him).

terrycollmann said...

The past (as opposed to perfect) form of 'it had gone 3 o'clock' is 'it went 3 o'clock', and the perfect form of 'it was gone 3 o'clock' is 'it had been gone 3 o'clock'.

Lynn, if you'r implying anybody in Britain would ever say "it went 3 o'clock" or "it had been gone 3 o'clock", all I can say is - not on my watch ...

qwerty said...

I'm BrE and if I had to choose I would say that the 's in my idiolect is 'is' as in 'Hurry up, it is gone 9', which also probably why 'It was gone 4' sounds fine too.

lynneguist said...

Terry C--No, I wasn't saying people would say 'it went'. I was just explaining the differences between the structures. The fact that people _don't_ say 'it went' is support for Algeo's position that 'gone' in these cases is a preposition (which doesn't have other tenses) and not a verb (which should be able to occur in any tense).

American motorist said...

(AmE) I use "doing 60" and "going 60" (mph, of course) interchangeably.

Ginger Yellow said...

It's definitely "is"/"was" for me, in most cases. As people say, "has"/"had" has connotations of lateness. It's a question of emphasis. "It was gone five" is just a description of the time, whereas "It had gone five" puts emphasis on the time. Compare "He boarded the train at five o'clock" with "At five o'clock, he boarded the train".

David Young said...

For me (BrE):

"it's gone 5" sounds OK, quite (i.e. entirely) normal;

"it is gone 5" sounds strange, just about possible but perhaps pompous or affected;

"it has gone 5" sounds OK, and slightly emphatic compared to "it's";

"it was gone 5" sounds just about OK, but probably only in a literary context;

"it had gone 5" sounds OK.

On the speed use, I would never say "I'm going 60". I might say "I'm going at 60" or "I'm doing 60".

Carole said...

Hello,

I am a Canadian (inter alia) who grew up in Canada speaking English. I have often heard the expression "X months gone" and it sounds negative to me, as does "X months along", somewhat as if it were an unpleasant journey. Both seem quite common to me, somewhat familiar, but not slang.

As for the temporal expressions "it's gone 6" or "he's gone 60", I have heard and read both but would not use them spontaneously (rather like "I reckon" which many Brits seem to use every other sentence, but which makes me feel alternatively like a cowboy in a film or an anglophile trying to fake Britishness).

I thank you for your blog, which I have just discovered and find very interesting, particularly from my Canadian vantage point. We are somewhat in the middle, or we used to be, but are becoming increasingly Americani(s/z)ed, mostly due to cable television. My grandmother said "chips" for instance, whereas most people now say French fries. By the way, I would love to see a geographic exploration of the terms used for sweet, non-alcoholic fizzy drinks. If you get the chance...

outerhoard said...

Re: "and I'm rushing to respond to it before I have to shame myself by writing 'last autumn/fall'", some of us are right now enjoying the twentieth day of Spring... :-)

Words said...

For me (BRE), London-born...

If I'm pleased it's gone 5.00 and notice the time very soon after 5.00, then I would assume "is". As is "It is gone 5.00, we can start now!"

If I'm fed up at being delayed and there's small prospect of immediate progress, then I would assume "has", as in "it has gone 5, let's get a move on".

"It was gone 5" sounds fine as in, "it was gone 5.00 when we found the right address" (you couldn't get away with the contraction on this one).

"It had gone 5.00" is also acceptable as a slightly more elegant alternative to the "was" construction.

Belind said...

I agree with Lauren, from my point of view it is more polite

Segat1 said...

"Up the duff" should always be used in conjunction with "Dropped the sprog?" especially when in close proximity to elderly folk, for maximum effect.

Aviatrix said...

"Five months along" I would understand as pregnant, with no other context, but with other context I would accept it as time elapsed since beginning a course of treatment or training. If someone told me his wife was "five months gone" I would think he was telling me she had died. I would be most likely to simply say "five months pregnant."

I don't know what "quarter of" means. I'd have to guess to know if it was quarter to or quarter after, or possibly quarter past the previous hour, such that 3:15 might be a quarter of four.

ff6m said...

As an American, I have never heard the word gone used to refer to the time that has passed, even in the British television and movies I have seen. It sounds incomprehensibly strange and wrong to me, like it shouldn't make sense to anyone at all anywhere, regardless of how sensitive to the differences in dialects I am. It simply doesn't make any sense to me. Especially when referring to pregnancy. How does the word gone have anything to do with the passage of time? I would really like to know how this entered the language.

How else is it used? Could someone in prison, for example, say something like "I've gone three years," to mean that they've served three years of their sentence thus far? Could "gone" simply mean "endure" (or some lighter version of that word) in BrE?

Boris said...

This reminds me a bit of the different tie-related terminology in Russian where the hour is often in the ordinal not the cardinal. When you ask "What time is it?" (literally "which hour is it?"), it would be perfectly find to answer "fifth" or "fifth hour" to mean that it's past four (though usually not by much, otherwise you'd just say "almost five" or something). By extension, you would say "a quarter of the fifth" (not one twentieth) to mean 4:15 (it works similarly with half and occasionally three quarters, as well as a number of minutes, such as "fifteen minutes of the fifth" where the word "minutes" is required and the word "hour" must be omitted). It is also acceptable to say "Four Fifteen" in the cardinal like in English, though that would imply more precision or that you looked it up on a digital clock. You would also say the equivalent of "quarter to/till five" in the cardinal.

So, if you suddenly realized it was late, you wouldn't say "it's gone 4", but "fifth hour" (no need for any its or gones. Much more to the point really). But I miss the ability to say something like that in the US. Maybe I'll try to introduce the "gone" into my lexicon.

Debbie said...

X months gone for pregnant, yes, definitely! I am in New Zealand, my father was English, and my mother NZ born but of Scottish ancestry. Both of them used that term...
My ex used 'up the duff', but really it's quite vulgar...
I agree with Lauren, 'X months gone' is polite and delicate, like "with child"..