During the course of a day, we make repeated references to time, whether we’re worrying about being late for an appointment or expressing surprise at how quickly something has happened. Any concept that we frequently convey is likely to have idioms associated with it. This post looks at those idioms, as always, focusing on phrases that are frequent and current.
Let’s start with the nice, short phrase time flies, used for saying how quickly time seems to have passed: Wow, Otis was a little boy the last time I saw him! Time flies.
When something happens later than you were hoping, you might say better late than never, meaning that you are happy about it, even though it should have happened earlier: Eventually, he wrote and apologized. Better late than never, I guess.
Conversely, something that happens on the dot happens exactly at the expected time: They arrived at nine o’clock, on the dot.
If you do something at the last possible moment, (almost too late) you might say informally that you do it (just) in the nick of time: We got to the station just in the nick of time – as we stepped on the train, the doors were closing. A more formal phrase with a similar meaning is at the eleventh hour, (usually said of something important or official): Thankfully, at the eleventh hour, we received the signatures.
Something that happens in the blink of an eye, happens extremely quickly: I don’t recall many details of the crash – it all happened in the blink of an eye.
If you do something enjoyable a lot because you haven’t had the opportunity to do it before, you might say you are making up for lost time: He didn’t get the chance to travel much when he was younger but he’s certainly making up for lost time now!
When you do something extremely early in the morning, you can say you do it at the crack of dawn: She’s up at the crack of dawn, feeding the chickens.
If something is done around / round the clock, it is done all day and all night, without stopping: Emergency services worked around the clock to rescue stranded residents. This phrase is also used adjectivally: He’s very sick and needs round-the-clock care.
I’d like to end this post with a vivid idiom that I’m sure has an equivalent in many languages. If something is done too late to prevent a problem, we sometimes say that someone has shut / closed the stable door after the horse has gone / bolted: They’re going to stop building houses on the floodplain. Talk about shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted!