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Coffee Moves in on Procrastination's Turf
On the wall of my local cafe is a quotation purporting to be from Terry Pratchett: "Coffee is a way of stealing time that should by rights belong to your older self."

I've no reason to doubt that it is from Pratchett, although checking on the web reveals only the same quote similarly attributed, without context - and, as we know, sometimes self-perpetuating mistakes get made. [ETA: Thanks to sovay, I now know it's from Thud!]

A bit of context would be nice, though, since I really can't see what this quote means. The only way I can make sense of it is as a warning that drinking coffee shortens your life - but in that case, why would a cafe advertise the fact? (This isn't a Gothy, half-in-love-with-easeful-death type establishment, but a cheerful place full of mums and toddlers, which sells Pom Pom Bears and Tunnock's Tea Cakes and milk shakes made from Maltesers. It may be called Lashings, but you just know they mean ginger beer rather than BDSM.)

So, what coffee-friendly meaning might this Pratchett quotation actually have? I'm quite prepared to believe I'm missing the bleeding obvious.

I've no reason to doubt that it is from Pratchett, although checking on the web reveals only the same quote similarly attributed, without context - and, as we know, sometimes self-perpetuating mistakes get made.

It's from Thud!, Vimes shocking himself awake with two cups in the morning: "Coffee was only a way of stealing time that should by rights belong to your slightly older self." As a non-coffee-drinker, I always assumed it was characterizing coffee as a way of catapulting you into consciousness at a rather more accelerated rate than you would have taken on your own, therefore subjectively the future.

[edited for typo]

Edited at 2013-04-26 06:25 pm (UTC)

I am a coffee drinker, but I'm not affected by its jittering/insomniac qualities: somebody once told me, on what authority I know not, that you either were or you weren't and that it was genetic. Either way, I can see the idea of waking oneself up quickly, but in that case the "stealing" bit doesn't quite work for me, because it's not as if your older self will have less time as a result.

me neither! re: jittering, but maybe I just haven't had enough.

Unless he means that by waking earlier, you will get tired in the evening earlier. So you're not actually gaining more waking hours, you're just stealing them from the future by (as it were) spending them earlier.

Of course you can stretch the day out and push yourself to work later too, but you are piling up a deficit that will eventually have to be made up.

True, although it all seems a little attenuated, doesn't it? Getting up early allows you to steal time from yourself (that evening), and coffee enables you to get up earlier, ergo coffee is a way of stealing time...

I think you're probably right, but I like my aphorisms a tad more lapidary.

Thanks for identifying the context, by the way!

What an odd coincidence—I was reading Thud yesterday. As I understand it, the context is Vimes using coffee as a substitute for sleep. But that doesn't really work: he still needs the sleep, so any time that he spends awake and doing things now will have to be paid for by extra sleep and general exhaustion and debilitation later on. It's not the time he spends alive that's involved here—it's the time he spends doing his job. And he's more aware of this because he doesn't feel great even after drinking the coffee, on account of not having had enough sleep.

That's really helpful! Not just any old time, then, but specifically productive time. That makes more sense.

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