a clock or watch moves merely as it is moved

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  • DocPenfro

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Are you sure that you have copied the sentence correctly? "A clock or watch moves merely as it is moved" does not really make sense. It resembles one of the enigmatic offerings of Wittgenstein's later philosophy, or else a sentence that is intentionally meaningless, like "Why a mouse when it spins?". I suggest you seek clarification from your teacher.
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    It makes sense. A clock or watch appears to move by itself, but its movement is only the product of the forces that program it and wind its springs.

    I get the sense that the sentence is counseling you not to confuse effects with causes.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    I agree with lucas-sp about the meaning.

    The sentence might be rewritten as: A clock or watch moves only when it is moved [by something else].
     
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    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    I actually found this sentence in several 19th-century grammar books by looking through Google Books, which maybe suggests that it used to be a more common maxim in English. I would guess that, based on the metaphor, it probably dates from the 17th or 18th century, when thinking about clocks as symbols of automatism was very common.
     

    DocPenfro

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I actually found this sentence in several 19th-century grammar books by looking through Google Books
    "Man is not such a machine as a clock or a watch, which moves merely as it is moved"
    (A key to the exercises adapted to Murray's English grammar: published 1816)

    Much obliged to lucas-sp for the clarification and for bringing Google Books to my notice. Fascinating stuff. Mind you, It's still a bit of a tricky one for a translation exercise.
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    Aw, thanks Doc for the generous comment, but I think my "clarification" was rather misguided. A better interpretation might be "some things are endowed with spirit and free will; others aren't."

    I do think it's very odd for a translation exercise, unless the exercise is based on learning to work with older-sounding English sentences. It's also hard to understand! (Odd use of "as," basing a meaning off of a voice distinction between words, the strange "a clock or watch" subject...)
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    Remarkable!

    So we're down to "A clock or watch moves merely as it is moved" = "Clocks do nothing other than move mechanically." or "All clocks do, is move mechanically."
     
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