Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Sunwise and Otherwise
I was very surprised to see that the OED's earliest entry for "clockwise" and "counterclockwise" is as late as 1888, with "anticlockwise" making its appearance a few years later.

I'd looked them up because I was musing on words like "widdershins" and "deasil". These two have always seemed an odd pairing. One's Germanic, the other Gaelic: one refers to the direction of the sun, the other to turning right. Although they are functional opposites, they get to the same (or in this case opposite) result via different workings and from different starting places too. What happened to their "true" opposites - the Germanic word meaning in the same direction as the sun, and the Gaelic word meaning turning left?

Also, neither is very common, and "deasil" in particular is a pretty rare word, so what (I asked myself) did people used to say before "clockwise" and "anticlockwise" came in, which obviously couldn't be before clocks with dials were invented? And, I added, did changing from the sun to a mechanical device as a way of orientating oneself ("orientating" is itself an interesting word in this context) reflect some wider epistemic shift from nature to technology as a source of reliable truth? I was expecting "clockwise" to show up some time around 1680. I couldn't imagine Robert Hooke not using it.

But I was 200 years out, and now I wonder what people were saying in the centuries between. Did they really have no use for the concept? How could you invent the steam engine or mine pumps or mass-produced screws without being to able to convey it - let alone walk round a church in a propitious direction?

(Of course I had to look it up in Japanese, where it turns out that clockwise is 右回り (migimawari - i.e. turning to right) and anti-clockwise is 反時計回り (hantokeimawari - i.e. turning against the clock). In other words, it exactly reproduces the inconsistency to be found in widdershins and deasil.)

What happened to their "true" opposites - the Germanic word meaning in the same direction as the sun, and the Gaelic word meaning turning left?

The Gaelic opposite of deosil is supposed to be tuathal, but I don't know if this is historically attested or neopagan. I've seen it mostly in fiction. [edit] I have just read that the common spelling "deosil" is Wiccan rather than Gaelic, so I would really check "tuathal."

Edited at 2016-04-27 06:48 pm (UTC)

Thanks! That's a new word on me - and yes, it does seem to be (Scottish) Gaelic for anticlockwise. OED doesn't have tuathal at all, mind but then it doesn't have the "deosil" spelling either, and I've definitely seen that around. One instance is in Mary Butts's 1924 short story "Deosil" (later renamed "Widdershins", confusingly), which of course predates Wicca as such. Though, since Butts had been hanging out with Aleister Crowley at Thelema not long before, I dare say there's a magickal connection.

Edited at 2016-04-27 09:57 pm (UTC)

but then it doesn't have the "deosil" spelling either, and I've definitely seen that around

Which one does it have? And what does it say about "widdershins"? I am afraid I no longer have access to the online OED and my print copy is in boxes in storage.

One instance is in Mary Butts's 1924 short story "Deosil" (later renamed "Widdershins", confusingly), which of course predates Wicca as such.

What is the story about? (Thanks, title change!)

Though, since Butts had been hanging out with Aleister Crowley at Thelema not long before, I dare say there's a magickal connection.

Yeah. There was a lot of witch-cult stuff before Gardnerian Wicca got codified in the 1950's and it turns up in the weirdest places.

deasil and deiseal are the headwords, with deisal and deisul acknowledged as alternative forms.

The story is a portrait of a frustrated magician in his forties wandering through London and being disenchanted (literally and metaphorically) by the place and its people. Everyone he used to be on intimate terms with appears to have "got on with their lives" and been absorbed into mundane life, while he struggles for a magical insight that would set everything to rights, in a way that borders on magical fascism. In terms of plot there's not much more to it than that, but I'll give you a couple of quotes and you'll get the flavour. (Naturally, neither widdershins nor deosil is mentioned in the story itself.)

[Waiting to see his old friend Eden, he talks to his typist]

"I'm Dick Tressider," he said, "and I'll wait for Mr Eden." He dropped his stick, picked it up, lit a cigarette, and walked once or twice up and down the room. "D'you know about me?"

"I can't say that I do," she said. "So many gentlemen come here for Mr Eden."

"D'you know Mr Eden well? Are you conscious of what is doing here? I mean that it's an expression of what is happening everywhere, of what is bound to happen everywhere, man's consciousness becoming part of the cosmic consciousness?"

"Mr Eden never says anything about it."


[Walking around Bloomsbury - early Nesbit reference!]

He wanted to persuade men that they were only there to illustrate the worth of the land. He did not want to see Eden, who would be busy trying to stop the next war, and getting people to dress up. He knew what war was and how it would stop these games, more power to it. It was all up with the world, and the world didn't know it. He would go to tea with Daphne now. It would be too early, but that didn't matter.

At the Museum gates he saw a man he had known who said: "Is that you, Tressider? I didn't know you were in town."

"I came up last night."

"Wishing you were back?"

"Wishing I could smash these lumps of stone or get men to see their cosmic signficance."

The civilized man winced. The idea might be tolerable, but one should not say it like that.

"I am going into the Museum. Come along."

"What are you going to do?"

"Look at things."

"Some earth-shaking new cooking-pot?"

"It's not a question of size, is it? Come along."

He had to run beside Dick, who flung himself over the courtyard and up the steps.

"I read a jolly fairy-story about this place," he said. "Some children got a magic amulet and wished the things home, and they all flew out. Those stone bull things, and all the crocks and necklaces."

"I remember. They found a queen from Bablyon and she said they belonged to her, and wished them all home, and home they went."

Dick looked at him with a sideways, ugly stare.

"I know. You like me, don't you, when you think I'm a fairy-boy. A kind of grown-up Puck? You like me to like rot."

"But I do," said his friend. "I like that story myself, and was glad when you recalled it."

"Do you know that the only thing we've said that meant anything was a bit of your talk - 'She said they all belonged to her.' That's the cursed property-sense that keeps this world a hell."

"Oh damn the property-sense! I was going to look at the casts from Yucatan, and I always forget the way."

Dick was staring at a case of bronze weapons. He put his hand easily on the man's shoulder. "Don't you understand that that fairy-story is true? They could all fly away out of here. It's as easy as changing your collar."

"Do it for us then, Tressider. I'll come along and applaud."

"My God! You people will find a man who can do it for you, and worse things, and soon. Someone you've treated as you treat all people. Take it from me, Brooks."

Madder than ever, thought Brooks. Won't think, and can't play.



Edited at 2016-04-28 07:57 am (UTC)

In terms of plot there's not much more to it than that, but I'll give you a couple of quotes and you'll get the flavour.

I can see I will have to read this. Thank you.

It is not intrinsic to early clocks in what direction the dial should move. (There are examples of them going either way.)
Nor whether they should have 12 or 24 hours.
Nor where noon should fall on its face.
The *very* earliest clocks didn't even have faces; they ran bells.

The late 17th century is, however, quite plausible as a date. A very interesting question!

Via the OED.

Earliest references:
sunwise, 1865
sunways, 1774


Edited at 2016-04-28 10:27 pm (UTC)

Thank you. Still quite late, aren't they?

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