Why do people say things like “25 mins to 9” instead of just giving the time?

One of the things I really like about time is it’s relational fluidity.

You can measure something as being however much time until something, or however much time from something. Now, for the sake of sensibility you always say too and from an hour, preferably one near by. I kinda like the optimism of looking to the future, so I definitely like people saying 25 to 9. Except for the fact that that’s only ten minutes away and I have to write this piece, get dressed, eat something and get to work before nine.

35 minutes to nine.

I’ve got time. 35 minutes is pretty much forever. Right?

25 past eight (26, actually) doesn’t have quite the same emotional charge. It’s just a number that’s somewhere before nine. Sure, the actual amount of time I’ve got hasn’t changed (okay, it’s reduced by a minute….two now) but my relationship with it has.

Now. Is this an optimistic kind of change, or a pessimistic one.

Is it about living in constant fear of the next hour (there’s only 33 minutes until the dreaded NINE). Or is it anticipatory and excited. (just 32 minutes to goooooo).

Or look at the other option, do we have a constant feeling of nostalgia (I remember eight, it was only 28 minutes ago (29), wasn’t eight great, we had so much time to do so many things), or something closer resembling being tied to old ideas and the past (oh wait, isn’t that nostalgia).

It’s half past. Thirty minutes left. (I need to finish writing in five, I reckon)

Now, I have to say, I think expressing time in relation to whichever hour is nearest is just functionally the best. It’s good to have the structures of time around you closest to what is useful. I love the anticipation of knowing there’s only 5 minutes to hometime (or in this case, 29 minutes to worktime, which is less pleasant).

And it just makes sense to me. To know with the words how much time you’ve got. Not that maths is that tricky, I just like my language directly representing the way I think about things.

What really baffles me is the German thing of rounding up, so essentially at half past (three minutes ago now), they refer to something as being half to! That strikes me as insane. But then, they get an extra minute of that anticipation of the next hour.

It’s 27 minutes to eight, and I’ve only got a hundred words left but I’ve got little else to say in the remaining two minutes.

One minute.


Time is a random series of divisions that we’ve allowed to rule our world. My life is constantly feeling under pressure from the charging inevitability of the clock face.

I can’t let go of that shared, accepted temporal reality.

Though, with 25 minutes to work (at 25 minutes to nine, in fact), I remember that I have some limited control. How I divide my time is mine, and certainly how I state it.

Wield what power you can.

It’s 24 to nine.

Illustrated by Anna-Kaisa.


About Alex Ava

Joiner of Dots. Player of Games. Unreliable Narrator. Dancing Fool. Non binary trans. zey/hir or they/them
This entry was posted in Illustrations by Anna-Kaisa, Questions by Habla.. Bookmark the permalink.

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