When is a Clock Not a Clock?
When It's a Timepiece, Of Course . . .
Is there a difference between a timepiece and a clock?
Like most people, I had never spent a great deal of time pondering this question. Until, that is quite recently, as I was doing some research for a blog post about the style of clock known as the "Banjo Clock". This style of wooden case clock has always appealed to me and I have been collecting them for years.
Simon Willard (1753 –1848) a Massachusetts clock-maker is credited as the originator of this style. He developed it as a result of his desire to create an affordable alternative to the very large, and quite costly case clocks of the period.
Willard was granted a patent in 1802 for his design of a wooden-cased clock that he called, with typical New England economy of words, the "Patent Timepiece".
Why, I wondered, did he choose the word "timepiece" instead of "clock". He was, after all, a clock-maker, not a timepiece-maker.
Turning to the Internet for an answer yielded the usual mixed bag of results. The opinions on this question, particularly on some of the "Ask and Answer" forums, I found to be pretty entertaining.
They are also a good case study about the propensity that many people who comment on these type forums seem to have. That propensity is to chime in with what they think is the answer without having done even the most minimal amount of research.
A five minute search of a dictionary will yield the answer that there is, in fact a difference between a clock and a timepiece but it is really only a distinction drawn by horologists, people who study time, timekeeping, clock-making, etc. and clock collectors.
While they both can tell you the time, a clock emits some sort of a sound to announce the hour, half-hour, or quarter-hour, but a timepiece does not.
Webster's Dictionary indicates that he word "clock" derives from the Medieval Latin word for a bell, clocca. It found its way into modern usage by way of Middle English clok, Middle Dutch clocke, Old French dialect cloque, Celtic Middle Irish clocc, Old German glock, and so forth.
Seems legitimate, right? Some of the opinions put forth on the Internet, however, might surprise and entertain you.
It is not my intention to embarrass anyone so I won't cite any of these websites or posts:
Q: What is the difference between "clock" and "timepiece"
A: A clock is usually on a wall or sitting on a desk; it is not on your wrist.
A: (reply to above) No, that's not true, a watch may also be on a desk, or on a table.
A: "Timepiece" is a popular word with people who sell very expensive clocks. I've never heard it used anywhere else. The word "piece" suggest something relatively small.
A: Timepiece is the name of the old fashioned watches normally worn attached to a chain in your waistcoat.
A: Clock is a wall hanging timepiece. Timepiece is portable and usually used as an alarm clock.
A: Clock goes on wall or a dresser. Timepiece goes in pocket
A: Timepiece is a decorative clock ,nothing more than that.
A: Both are used to check the time. A clock is bigger, it is a wall clock. A timepiece is normally smaller than a clock but bigger than a watch.
Granted, this is a trivial distinction. I would suggest, however that this Internet phenomenon of shooting first and then shooting again somewhere else is all pervasive wherever posts or comments about a discussion are found.
And if the discussion is political in nature it becomes blood sport.
A widely known humorous quote, the source of which seems uncertain since it is variously attributed to Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and even the Bible which is appropriate to this activity.
I will paraphrase it here:
Keep your hands off your keyboard and let people think
that you are stupid or start typing and remove all doubt.