Monday, February 24, 2014

Random thoughts on Time and tide wait for no man

I was looking at early uses of the word hardly when I came cross this:

The Tyde Taryeth No Man, John Payne Collier, 1576 [GB]

I wondered if 'The tyde taryeth no man' was simply another way of saying 'time and tide wait for no man', an older meaning of tarry being "delay or retard" (Online Etymology Dictionary). This got me to wondering where this well-known idiom came from. Looking on the Internet, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was Chaucer, and you can even buy mugs with the quote attributed to Chaucer on them.
But in fact the first known appearance in exactly this form wasn't until the late eighteenth century, although there had been many similar expressions before.
Update - since first posting this I've amended it slightly and will probably be amending it again, as I find more.

One story of time and tide

This list is an expanded version of one in the Dictionary of Proverbs by George Latimer Apperson. There are links at the end to the dictionary as well as the individual examples.
  • And te tide and te time þat tu iboren were, schal beon iblescet

    St. Marher, 1225

  • For thogh we slepe, or wake, or rome, or ryde,
    Ay fleeth the tyme; it nyl no man abyde.

    Goeffrey Chaucer (.1343-1400), The Prologue to the Clerk's Tale, 1368

  • But hast the lyghtly that yu were gone ye Iournaye
    And preue thy frendes yf thou can
    For wete thou well the tyde abydeth no man
    And in the worlde eche lyuynge creature
    For Adams synne must dye of nature. 

    Everyman (published by John Skot, 1521-1537?), about 1530

  • Tyme is a thing that no man may resyst;
       Tyme is trancytory and irreuocable;
    Who sayeth the contrary, tyme passeth as hym lyst;
       Tyme must be taken in season couenable;
       Take tyme when tyme is, for tyme is ay mutable;
    All thynge hath tyme who can for it prouyde:
    Byde for tyme who will, for tyme will no man byde.

    John Skelton (c.1460-1529) - On Tyme, before 1529

  • yet time and tide (that staies for no man) forbids us to tire any more on this carrion, being more than glutted with it alreadie.

    Thomas Nashe (1567-c.1601), Have with you to Saffron Walden (pamphlet), 1596

  • Time is so absolute and soveraigne a Regent, as hee is all-commanding, but not to be countermanded; whence we commonly say, Time and tide stayeth for no man'

    Richard Braithwait (1588-1673), The English Gentleman, 1630

  • Time and tide will stay for no man

    Nathan Bailey (?-1742) - Dictionarium Britannicum: Or, A More Compleat Universal Etymological English Dictionary Than any Extant (Second edition) 1736 (listed as an existing proverb)

  • "Come, come, Master, let us get afloat", said one of then in a rough impressive whisper, "time and tide wait for no man."

    Sir Walter Scot - The Fortunes of Nigel, 1822

  • Time and tide will wait for no man, saith the adage. But all men have to wait for time and tide. That tide which , taken at the flood , would lead Seth Pecksniff on to fortune , was marked down in the table, and about to flow.

    Charles Dickens - The life and adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, 1844 [GB]


The word tide (Old English - tid) originally simply meant time, or a point in time, or a division of time, or a season. The current meaning of "rise and fall of the sea" didn't appear till the mid fourteenth century (Online Etymology Dictionary)
But there's obviously a strong metaphor from sailing that the tide, in the modern sense of the word, doesn't wait any more than time does. If you wanted to 'sail on the tide' you couldn't hang around.
The word abide appears in a couple of the quotes. Although this now means "to put up with" (usually used in the negative), it originally meant "remain, wait, delay, remain behind," and was related to the verb bide "to stay, continue, live, remain,". These older meanings can be seen in the hymn 'Abide with me' (Stay with me) and the Scottish expression 'Bide awee' (Stay awhile, wait a minute), which appears in Sir Walter Scott's Heart of Midlothian.
As far as I know, the word wete, as in 'wete thou well' (Everyman) means know.
Early printers often interchanged the letters U and V, and in Skelton's poem, I presume:
  • irreuvocable = irrevocable
  • couvenable = convenable
  • prouyde = provide

Random thoughts Part 1

The first example from St.Marher is often given as the origin of the proverb tide and time wait for no man, but as far as I can see it is simply an early example of the expression time and tide (which was quite often used on its own). The meaning is presumably something like 'And the time and tide that you were born in shall be blessed'. In other words, a totally different meaning from the familiar proverb.
I'm now pretty well convinced that we can add to the list the John Payne Collier example I quoted at the beginning.
If we are to attribute this proverb to anyone, I would suggest Thomas Nashe (1596) has a good claim to be the first person known to have used it in nearly its present form (only with stay instead of wait), in an expression which was pretty well exactly repeated by Richard Braithwait (1630) and listed as a proverb in the second edition of Nathan Bailey's dictionary.
Apperson seems to be suggesting that the first person to use it in its modern form was Sir Walter Scott, in The Fortunes of Nigel, published in 1822.
So now let's have a look in Google Books and see what more we can learn.

Sixteenth Century

So far I've only been able to find three examples with 'time and tide', one of which is very similar to the example from John Payne Collier I quoted at the beginning. The other two simply link time and tide, quite a common pairing.
  • I saw, my tyme how it did runne, as sand out of the glasse.
    Euen as eche hower appointed is from tyme, and tyde to passe.

    Tottel's miscellany. Songes and sonettes - unknown, 1557 [GB]

  • Sir, haue you not heard before this
    Tyde tarrieth no man, but will away

    The tyde taryeth no man, by John Payne Collier, 1576 [GB]

  • Subdue the euill mynded men 
        that order will not byde : 
    Beware of common grudge and hate
        at euery tyme and tyde

    The Poet's Gentleman, from The Ideal of a Gentleman, by Abram Smythe Palmer, 1586 [GB]

  • A disputation between a hee Conne-catcher, as willfully wanton as my selfe, puppies, ill brought uppe and without manners, growing on in yeeres, as tyde nor tyme tarrieth no man

    A Dispvtation, Betweene a Hee Conny-catcher, and a Shee Conny-catcher, by Robert Greene, 1592 [GB]

Seventeenth century

This was more promising.
  • When chyldhood, youth, mid-age, & old-age is arryued.
    Ruled in each degree by cours of tyme and tyde

    Amorum emblemata, by Otto Van Veen, 1608 [GB]

  • Take time when time cometh
    Time and Tide will stay no mans leisure

    Lexicon tetraglotton, James Howell, 1660 [GB]

  • ... that the Press, like Time and Tide, staying for no man

    Memoires of the Lives, Actions, Sufferings and Deaths of those Personages that suffered ..., David Lloyd, 1668 [GB]

  • Time and Tide tarry for no man
    Le Tems [sic] et la Marée attendent personne

    A New Dictionary, French and English, by Guy Miège, 1677 [GB]

  • Time and tide tarry for no man

    A Collection of English Proverbs, John Ray, 1678 [GB]

  • We must resolve, when we can,
    for Time and Tide stays for no man

    The Courtiers Manual Oracle Or The Art of Prudence, Baltasar Gracián (trans unknown) 1685 [GB]

  • Bright Castabella come away!
    The Wind sits fair, the Vessels stout and tall,
    Bright Castabella come away!
    For Time and Tide can never stay

    Castabella, by Thomas Flatman, 1686 [GB]

Eighteenth century

  • and therefore let us take this present time while we have it ; for Time and Tide will stay for none; the time past we cannot call back

    The Great Assize, by Samuel Smyth, 1719 [GB]

  • Time and Tide tarry for no Man

    Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs, Thomas Fuller, 1732 [GB]

  • O my soul, thou knowest that time and tide stay for no man, that the time of thy trial is both short and uncertain

    Sermons and Tracts, Henry Grove, 1745 [GB]

  • insomuch that the Tricks of this Kind he [Time] and another slippery Friend of his has play'd, have even passed into a proverb ... Time and Tide stay for no Man

    The Museum or the Literary and Historical Register Vol 2 1746 [GB]

  • 'For time may have yet one fated Hour to come, which, wing'd with Liberty, may overtake occasion past.' — Overtake occasion past! — no, no, Time and Tide waits for no Man — '

    The Apprentice (with an ' Advertisement' from author(?) Arthur Murray dated 1756), from Farces, Isaac Bickerstaff, 1764 [GB]

  • Let us try the Augury of this Matter : Is not a Watch the Measure of Time ? And is not Death the End of it ? For time and tide waiteth for no man

    A series of genuine letters, Richard Griffith, Elizabeth Griffit, 1770 [GB]

  • His poets have taught him that too, and it's all flat nonsense : time and tide wait for no man

    The Apprentice, from The Works of Arthur Murphy, 1786, [GB]

  • Time and tide stay for no man

    A Dictionary of Spanish and English, and English and Spanish, by Giuseppe Marco Antonio Baretti, 1778 [GB]

  • Common Errours ... The children has supped. The men has fought. The boys has been at school. Good and bad comes to all. Time and tide waits for no man

    Lessons in Elocution Fifth edition 1789, by William Scott [GB]

  • The author, no doubt, had the old proverb in his thought, viz. "Time and Tide will stay for no Man."

    The New York Magazine 1794, [GB]

  • For the next inn he spurs amain;
    In haste alights, and scuds away,
    But time and tide for no man stay

    The Sweet-scented Miser, from Tales, W.Somerville, 1797 [GB]

  • Time and tide wait for no body

    Diccionario nuevo de las dos lenguas española e inglesa, by Tomás Conelly 1798 [GB]

  • "Time and tide," it is said, "stay for no man ;"

    Old Humphrey's Observations, by George Mogridge, 1799 [GB]

Random thoughts Part 2

It has now become clear that there were two standard proverbs during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, one with stay and the other with tarry, and listed as such in dictionaries and collections of proverbs. There also seems to have been an earlier version with a transitive tarry. About the middle of the eighteenth century they were joined by a fourth, with wait.
  • time and tide tarry no man
    - earliest example I've found is from 1556 (John Payne Collier)
  • time and tide tarry for no man
    - listed as a proverb from as early as 1677 (Miège)
  • time and tide stay for no man
    - earliest found 1596 (Nashe), recognised as a proverb from as early as 1630 (Braithwait)
  • time and tide wait for no man
    - the first (although grammatically incorrect) example I've found is from 1764 (possibly 1756) (Murphy - The Apprentice)
The stay version seems to have been the most common before wait took over in the early nineteenth century, and while I'm more than ever convinced that Thomas Nashe should get the credit for being the first writer on record as using it, I'm also becoming convinced that time and tide tarry no man was the forerunner of all of these expressions.

Lindley Murray's An English Grammar

This book, first published in 1795, became the most influential grammar book of the first half of the nineteenth century, on both sides of the Atlantic. In an exercise on agreement between subject and verb, various sentences were listed for correction, including this one:
  • Time and tide waits for no man.

    An English Grammar Illustrated by Appropriate Exercises, by Lindley Murray, 1802 [GB]

It turns out, however, that Murray was not the first to offer this sentence for correction. A certain William Scott had included it in his Lessons in Elocution, Or, A Selection of Pieces in Prose and Verse: For the Improvement of Youth in Reading and Speaking. This was published at least as early as 1781. By the fifth edition, published in 1789, it included a section on noun-verb agreement in which he lists some common errors:
  • Common Errours ... The children has supped. The men has fought. The boys has been at school. Good and bad comes to all. Time and tide waits for no man

    Lessons in Elocution Fifth edition 1789, by William Scott [GB]

The Apprentice

This play, by Arthur Murray, and with a prologue by David Garrick, contains the lines:
  • 'for time may have yet one fated hour to come, which, wing'd with liberty, may overtake occasion past.' — Overtake occasion past! — no, no, time and tide waits for no man — ' ?
Lindley Murray would not have been pleased! The play is listed as being from 1805 in:
  • Cawthorn's Minor British Theatre, published in 1806, [GB]

and also appeared in a collection of plays apparently edited by Sir Walter Scott:
  • Modern British Drama: Volume 5, Operas and Farces, edited by Walter Scott, 1811 [GB]

Update - But I've now found out that this play was published as early as 1764, with an 'Advertisement' from its presumed author, Arthur Murray, dated 5th Jan. 1756.
  • 'For time may have yet one fated Hour to come, which, wing'd with Liberty, may overtake occasion past.' — Overtake occasion past! — no, no, Time and Tide waits for no Man — '

    The Apprentice (1756?), from Farces, Isaac Bickerstaff, 1764 [GB]

There also a version from 1786 with a slightly different text, but still containing the expression time and tide wait for no man.
  • His poets have taught him that too, and it's all flat nonsense : time and tide wait for no man

    The Apprentice, from The Works of Arthur Murphy, 1786, [GB]

Perhaps this is where Lindley Murray got it from in the first place.

Nineteenth century

Mystery poem

A poem called 'To the River E ***', simply listed as 'Original poetry' was published in the Edinburgh Annual Register of 1811. The Register had been founded by and was edited by Sir Walter Scott. The poem includes these lines:
  • Through scenes where Fancy frames her fairy bower,
    And Love, enchanted, rears his cottage-home ;
    But time and tide wait not — and I, like thee,
    Must go where tempests rage, and wrecks bestrew the sea.

    To the River E***, in The Edinburgh Annual Register for 1811, [GB]

The same poem, titled 'To the River Earn' and dated as 1812, appears in a collection of poems by Thomas Pringle published in 1819.
  • The Autumnal Excursion or Sketches in Teviotdale, by Scottish poet Thomas Pringle, 1819 [GB]

The works of Sir Walter Scott

  • But time and tide o'er all prevail
    On Christmas eve a Christmas tale

    Marmion; A Tale of Flodden Field, by Sir Walter Scott, 1808 [GB]

  • Time and Tide had thus their sway,
    Yielding, like an April day,
    Smiling noon for sullen morrow,
    Years of joy for hours of sorrow !

    Rokeby, by Sir Walter Scott, 1813 [GB]

  • But, however, time and tide tarry for no man ; and so, my young friend, we'll have a snack here at the Hawes, which is a very sort of a place

    The Antiquary, by Walter Scott, 1816 [GB]

  • till it chapped twal, whilk was a lawfu' hour to gie a look at my ledger just to see how things stood between us ; and then, as time and tide wait for nae man, I made the lass get the lanthorn, and came slipping my ways here to see what can be

    Rob Roy, by Walter Scott, 1817 (in The British Review, and London Critical Journal, 1819) [GB]

  • Well, but your business, my bonnie woman — time and tide, you know, wait for no one."

    Heart of Midlothian, Sir Walter Scott, 1818 [GB]

  • to arise, as the rod of the prophet produced water, in the desert, affording the means of dispensing with that time and tide which wait for no man, and of sailing without that wind which defied the commands and threats of Xerxes himself.

    The Monastery: A Romance, by Walter Scott, 1820 GB]

  • "Come, come, Master, let us get afloat", said one of then in a rough impressive whisper, "time and tide wait for no man."

    The Fortunes of Nigel, Sir Walter Scott, 1822 [GB]

  • Cleveland answered, with his usual bluntness of manner, that time and tide tarried for no one

    The Pirate, by Sir Walter Scott, 1822 [GB]

Others up to 1822

  • Time and tide, the proverb says, stay for no man.

    Lectures to the Young, by Robert May, 1812 [GB]

  • begging him for God's sake, and what was more, for her sake, to consider, “ that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush;” “time and tide staid for no man ;” “ many things happened between the cup and the lip” ...

    The Beggar Girl and Her Benefactors, by Mrs. Bennett (Agnes Maria), 1813 [GB]

  • The old proverb said, that "time and tide waited for no man." Lord Gambier thought they would ; but he found himself mistaken.

    Parliamentary Debates, Thomas Hansard, 1812 [GB]

  • Time and tide wait for none. All plan is here at the mercy of the winds and waves. Nelson, aware of this, writes to his captains before the battle of Trafalgar, that ...

    The Naval Monument, by Abel Bowen, 1816 [GB]

  • It is an old adage — " Time and Tide stay for no man." It may be added, Neither do they come for any man. Therefore we remained on the spot contented

    An Excursion to Windsor, by John Evans, 1817 [GB]

  • Time and tide wait for no man. Never put that off while to-morrow, which you can do to-day. A stitch in time saves nine. Lost time is never found again. What we call time enough, always proves little enough. Make hay while the sun shines

    The Child's Instructer, by John Ely, 1818 [GB]

  • Time and tide, says the proverb, wait for no man. The inexorable arrival of the 20th, which comes round, we grieve to say, as regularly as the taxgather, compels us to send forth our present number, by so much less interesting and attractive than we had anticipated

    The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany, 1821 [GB]

  • Encouraged by Sterne, and urged on by the pathetic effects of her eloquence, she proceeded — "Time and tide wait for no man. There is a time for picking up of stones, and a time for throwing them away again ; and man is nought but grass.

    The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, 1821 [GB]

Random thoughts Part 3

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, time and tide wait for no man starts to appear in the books in Google Books collection.
Although sometimes credited to Sir Walter Scott, who certainly used it several times, it seems to go back quite a bit earlier. We can date it to at least to 1764, when it appeared in The Apprentice (probably written in 1756), by Arthur Murray and by 1789 time and tide waits for no man was already being described as a common error (William Scott - Lessons in Elocution).
By 1798 it was being listed as a standard cexpression in an English-Spanish dictionary and was already being described as 'that old proverb' in 1812.
Scott would have been familiar with this play, as it was part of a collection he published in 1811. Scott would also have been familiar with the expression from Thomas Pringle's 'To the River Earn' from 1811 or so, which Scott published in the Edinburgh Annual Register.
Scott's earliest use of the 'wait' version of the proverb seems to be from 1817, although he used the 'tarry' version in 1816 and again six years later.

Thomas Nashe

Thomas Nashe was one of the more colourful characters in the history of English letters. A pamphleteer, playwright, poet and satirist in late Elizabethan England, he was a prolific inventor of words. Here he writes about how other people described his style:
  • 'The ploddinger sort of unlearned Zoilists about London exclaim that it is a puffed-up style, and full of profane eloquence; others object unto me the multitude of my boisterous compound words, and the often coining of Italianate verbs which end all in -ize, as mummianize, tympanize, tyrannize'

    Epistle to the Reader, introduction to the 1594 second edition of Christ's Tears over Jerusalem

The word ploddinger seems to be an invention of Nashe's, Zoilists were imitators of Zoilus, a Greek grammarian, Cynic philosopher, and literary critic from Amphipolis in East Macedonia famous for his carping cryticism. Nashe seems to be claiming tyrannise as one of his neologisms, but Online Etymology Dictionary has it as late 15c., from Middle French tyranniser (14c.).
For the late William Safire, writing in the New York Times, Nashe seems to have been held single-handedly responsible for the modern tendency of creating new verbs and their derivatives by adding -ise/-ize to existing nouns and adjectives, which, far from being something new, has been going on for four hundred years or so.
I'm pretty sure, however, that we can credit him with mummianize and tympanize, as well as alchumise and paradize from The Unfortunate Traveller (1593), which don't seem to appear in any dictionaries. In the opening phrases of his dedication of The Unfortunate Traveller to the poet the Lady Elizabeth Carey, as well as mummianized, Nashe includes preludately, a word that also seems pretty well unique to Nash:
  • Excellent accomplished court-glorifying Lady, give me leave, with the sportive sea-porpoises, preludiately a little to play before the storm of my tears, to make my prayer before I proceed to my sacrifice. Lo, for an oblation to the rich burnished shrine of your virtue, a handful of Jerusalem's mummianized earth, in a few sheets of waste paper enwrapped, I here, humiliate, offer up at your feet.

    Dedication to The Unfortunate Traveller, 1593

Nashe was also well-known for his running literary feud with the brothers Richard and Gabriel Harvey. The pamphlet I quoted above, Have with you to Saffron Walden, was part of this feud, Saffron Walden being Gabriel Harvey's birthplace.
Given his propensity for inventing new words, it would be perhaps apt to add this proverb to his list.

Postscript - A Counter Petition to Time, from Misochronus

During my searches I came across this strange piece, published in 1746 in the second volume of The Museum or the Literary and Historical Register, in answer to 'a petition to the Lord Chancellor [and his judges]' from Time, 'acknowledged the most useful and valuable servant of Mankind', but who feels 'shamefully neglected and notoriously ill-used'.
The original petition from Time presumably appeared in the first volume, seemingly not available at Google Books, but both were reprinted in The London Magazine in 1781, in which they are referred to as a:
'jeux d'esprit ... not a jot the worse for wear, and equally applicable to the present as it was to the remote æra when it made its first appearance.'
In this counter petition, a certain Misochronus says of Time:
the Tricks of this Kind he and another slippery Friend of his has play'd, have even passed into a proverb ... Time and Tide stay for no Man
(The prefix miso- (from Greek) means hatred of or dislike of, as in misogynist,while chronus is the Latinised version of chronos, Greek for time.)
The text mentions a certain Drawcansir. He is 'a fictional character in Buckingham's play The Rehearsal. He kills every one of the combatants, "sparing neither friend nor foe." '(Wikipedia)
The Museum or the Literary and Historical Register, published by Robert Dodsley and edited by Mark Akenside, had a brief life - 1746 to 1747. The first incarnation of The London Magazine lasted from 1732 to 1785. In 1781, the editor was Henry Mayo.
There are links to both magazines after this extract:


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