M is for Military Time

America is a foreign country and they tell the time differently here. They do not, for example, have clocks that look like this:


Recently we booted up an old iPhone bought in the UK and when the time in the middle of the screen said something like 16:28, Child 3 looked at it with furrowed brow. “What’s that?” she said, and then paused and continued, “oh, yeh. That’s military time.”

And honestly I had not really noticed, but now I see that all our digital clocks (on this laptop, on the oven, on the cable box and on my phone) are in the 12 hour clock. What I call the twenty-four hour clock is only used by the armed forces, hence the term – military time.Weird huh.

And there are other differences too. There’s the question of accuracy. Child 1 has a friend named (and I have written about strange names for kids here before) after a mythical creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. Apart from that he is totally normal but the other week he was here and called his Dad to tell him he would be home “at approximately 12.53”.

Approximately 12.53? What?? Could he be any less approximate??

But it’s not just eagle/lion boy who likes to precise about the time. Look at Child 1’s middle school timetable for instance. This poor wee 12 year old laddie has to leave the house at 6.42am to catch the big yellow bus and then do the following:

Warning Bell 7:34 AM

Prime Time 7:35 -7:50

Period 1 7:54 -8:36

Period 2 8:40 -9:22

Period 3 9:26 -10:08

Period 4 10:12 -10:54

Period 5 10:58 -11:40

Period 6 11:40 -12:10 LUNCH

Period 7 12:14 -12:56

Period 8 1:00 – 1:42

Basic Instruction/Activity 1:46 – 2:20

Dismissal 2:20 PM

See how exact that is? With four minute gaps worked in between periods so they can get from A to B. They might not use ‘military time’ but there is something very military about all this precision.

In fact, Child 1 is not so bad, but Child 2 and Child 3 really don’t like being told that it is five past three when it says its 3:07 or 3:04 on the clock. They are not fans of my talk of quarters to, or twenty pasts. They like their time in numbers: they want to hear that it’s 2.45 or 8.20, but only if that really is the time and not just my casual approximation.

Telling people that I’ll pick up my kids from them at half five has got me into trouble in both Canada and the US. Here’s a graphic for anyone unsure of what that means:


And my heavy use of halves and quarters to divvy up hours is definitely out of place. But they do like their ten ofs and ten afters. I don’t know why this format should only be used for tens (rather than 5’s or 15’s or 20’s) but in my experience my American friends only do ‘ofs’ and ‘afters’ with tens. To clarify:

clock face

Ten past 10, I’d say. But the kids would say 10, 10 and others might say 10 after.


nearly ten of

I’d call this 10 to 2 but here it’s 10 of

unless you are in the precision camp with the kids who’d probably insist on 1.52.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Jean Taylor says:

    Is divvy a recognisable word on either side of the Atlantic?

    1. I was pretty sure that divvy up – slang for divide up – is ok on both sides. No?

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