at the eleventh hour of four o’clock in the afternoon

dewylotus

Senior Member
chinese
I who cannot stay in my chamber for a single day without acquiring some rust, and when sometimes I have stolen forth for a walk at the eleventh hour of four o’clock in the afternoon, too late to redeem the day, when the shades of night were already beginning to be mingled with the day-light — have felt as if I had committed some sin to be atoned for-------------excerpts from H.D. Thoreau's Walking.

What does it mean? Quite confused. What time was it exactly?:confused:
 
  • Gwan

    Senior Member
    New Zealand, English
    "The eleventh hour" is an expression meaning something like "at the last possible minute". For example, you could say that someone's execution was called off "at the eleventh hour", meaning just before it was due to happen (no matter what time of day it was).

    So he goes for his walk at four o'clock in the afternoon, which he feels is very late in the day, or the last possible opportunity he has to take a walk during the daytime- it is already almost night.
     

    prawer

    Member
    English - US
    I agree with Gwan's explanation.

    The only thing I might add is that a speaker using this phrase ~may~ be consciously using it for effect, given that the metaphor and the literal terms come from the same realm -- perhaps to be funny.

    It's not literally "ha-ha" funny, but it could count as wordplay.
     

    pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    The phrase may originally be a Bible reference, involving a parable that Jesus told. Literally, it would have meant five o'clock in the afternoon. In the parable, a man hires laborers all during the day, the last group at "the eleventh hour." Then he pays them all the same, even though the "eleventh hour" workers - those hired at the last minute - did much less work.

    So it has come to mean "at the last possible time." I'm not sure this is the actual source of the phrase, but I can't find any other.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    There is nothing nearly so abstract here as everyone is suggesting above. Because New England is not as far north as Britain, the longest days of the year have only a little more than 15 hours of daylight, and most days with fine weather in the summer (since days get shorter after June 21) have less; it is thus typical for a day in the season of fine weather to have about 14 hours when the sun is above the horizon. Back before there was such a thing as either standard time (invented for railroads) or daylight savings time, 14 hours of daylight would mean that the sun would have risen at 5 AM. If one does not leave the house until 4 in the afternon, one has wasted eleven hours of daylight -- which is why Thoreau mentions the "shades of night" as approaching.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    There is nothing nearly so abstract here as everyone is suggesting above.
    It's not "abstract", but literary. I think you are putting way too much effort into it to make it a literal reference (let's see when was sunrise today, how many hours has it been since, do some math, how long's the day going to be today, I'll look that up in my handy pocket almanac, oh! it must be almost sunset then). Also, if you think of it your way, he's merely produced a redundancy (basically saying "it's four o'clock at four o'clock") not that it's a late sort of four o'clock.
     

    dewylotus

    Senior Member
    chinese
    Thank you guys. I searched the word "eleventh hour" by google and found,on Wikipedia, that pob14's source was correct. Post it up as follows:

    The eleventh hour is a colloquial expression meaning "a time which is nearly too late". The phrase originates in the book of Matthew of the Christian Bible and references workmen being hired late in the day (Matt 20:6).
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Also, if you think of it your way, he's merely produced a redundancy (basically saying "it's four o'clock at four o'clock") not that it's a late sort of four o'clock.
    Since "4" and "11" are not the same thing, I see no redundancy whatsoever in noting that by 4:00 PM, a quite literal eleven hours of daylight would have been wasted.

    I will agree that there is a simultaneous reference to the Biblical parable, but note that Jesus was also using a way of measuring time that counts the hours from sunrise -- and so the "eleventh hour" is once again about 4:00 PM.
     
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