Time for the Saving of Daylight
Posted by Neal on March 13, 2011
Nancy Friedman tweeted last week,
Now that we have daylight saving time 8 months of the year, shouldn’t it be renamed “standard time”?
I immediately retweeted, since this is what I’ve been thinking for months. In fact, I’d probably say it’s my biggest objection to the extension of daylight saving time. Gordon Hemsley responded to us both with this complication I hadn’t considered:
Then we’d have to rename the other 4 months Daylight-Losing Time.
Daylight-losing time … no one wants that. On the other hand, there wouldn’t be any confusion over whether to call it daylight-losing time or daylight-losings time, since losings isn’t nearly as common a word as savings. To tell you the truth, I’d been saying “daylight-savings time” for years, until I listened to this episode of Grammar Girl and learned that the original and preferred term is daylight-saving time. The form is saving and not savings because it’s just an ordinary gerund, turned into a compound noun by putting a direct object in front of it, the same as you do with hog-killing, cherry-picking, and pie-eating.
I didn’t believe it at first. I figured whatever usage guides GG had been looking at must have had some prejudice against the pluralia tantum (“plural only”) noun savings. True, savings usually refers to money, but I didn’t see any problem extending the concept to time, since you can certainly do that with the verb save. You can save both money and time, and the money or time that you save can be referred to as your savings, right?
But the story checked out, as I found when I went searching through the Google News Archive. Garner’s Modern American Usage confirms it, too: “the singular form daylight-saving time is the original one, dating from the early 20th century…. So my question is why people started calling it daylight savings time. Garner proposes this explanation:
The rise of the plural form (daylight-savings time) appears to have resulted from the avoidance of a miscue: when saving is used, readers might puzzle momentarily over whether saving is a gerund … or a participle….
In other words, we don’t want readers asking themselves, “Does this mean ‘the time for saving daylight’ or ‘the time that saves daylight’?”
Here’s my problem with calling it daylight-saving time. The way you pronounce this kind of noun phrase, with a compound gerund modifying a noun, is that you put primary stress on the first word, and secondary stress on the modified noun. So with this pattern, we getting HOG-killing time, PIE-eating contest, BABY-sitting service. In fact, this is generally how you put stress on compound nouns composed of words A, B, and C, where A and B form a compound that modifies C. Other examples are ANGEL food cake and BABY-butt legs, or INCOME tax time. But I don’t put primary stress on daylight; I put primary stress on saving(s), and as far as I know, most other speakers do, too. (If I’m wrong about you, comments are open.)
Why do I pronounce it as daylight SAVING(S) time? Actually, I don’t know. Even if I was interpreting it as “time that gives you a savings of daylight,” that would still mean that daylight and savings formed a compound that in turn modified time, so it would still be pronounced as DAYLIGHT savings time, wouldn’t it? Going by the examples of model DOGhouse and gourmet CAT food, I would expect the pronunciation daylight SAVINGS time to mean “a savings time that has to do with daylight” — maybe a time when you save money during the day but not at night.
Maybe it’s significant that daylight saving(s) time is a compound word, while model doghouse and gourmet cat food are still transparently compounds (doghouse, cat food) modified by a third word (model, gourmet). Or maybe the stress is landing on saving(s) because speakers are thinking of it as contrastive focus: STANDARD time as opposed to daylight SAVING(S) time, with the initial-S commonality subtly encouraging this.
Whatever the reason, this stress pattern is very ingrained with me, and if I use it while saying daylight saving time, I end up with daylight SAVING time, which sounds really goofy. It sounds like another contrastive focus: daylight SAVING time as opposed to the gloomy daylight LOSING time that Gordon brought up.