Passing Time: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
November 13, 2023

The phrase "passing time" is often used to talk about engaging in an activity to make the time go by faster or more enjoyably. This could be anything from reading a book to playing a game. While the phrase is commonly used in everyday conversation, it can also be used in a more reflective way to discuss how one spends their life or a certain period of it.

In short:

  • It refers to doing something to occupy oneself.
  • It can also be used to think about how we spend our days or life as a whole.

What Does "Passing Time" Mean?

When someone talks about "passing time," they usually mean they're doing something to keep busy or make a waiting period less dull. For example, if you're waiting for a friend at a coffee shop, you might read a magazine to pass the time. On a deeper level, it could also refer to how you choose to spend your life, as in, "I want to pass my time doing things that matter to me."

Let's look at what this phrase means and how it's used:

  • It's about doing something enjoyable or useful while waiting.
  • You use it to fill time, often while waiting for something or someone.
  • It can also make you think about how you're spending your life in the long run.
  • The phrase is common in daily chats but can also pop up in more serious or reflective discussions.
  • Similar phrases include "killing time," "while away the time," and "spending time."

Where Does "Passing Time" Come From?

The term “passing” is derived from the Old English word “passen,” which means “to go by (something),” also “to cross over.” This word has its roots in the Proto-Germanic word “*passare” which means “to step, walk, pass.” The figurative sense of “to experience, undergo” (as in pass the time) is recorded from the late 14th century. The word “time,” on the other hand, comes from the Old English word “tima,” which means “limited space of time.” In "passing time," these words convey a sense of experiencing or undergoing a period of time.

Historical Example

"Whatsoever satisfaction you may take now in passing time away merrily, and without thinking, it must not pass away so for ever."

- The World to Come, Etc. by Isaac Watts, 1816

10 Examples of "Passing Time" in Sentences

To give you a clear idea of how "passing time" is used, let's look at examples from various scenarios:

  • While waiting for the bus, she was passing time by scrolling through social media.
  • He was passing the time at the airport by reading a book.
  • I see what you did there; you're passing the time by solving crosswords instead of working on the project!
  • She passes her time on weekends by hiking and taking photos.
  • To pass the time until dinner, they played a quick board game.
  • I work around the clock, but I still find ways to pass the time during breaks.
  • While waiting for her appointment, she passed the time by doodling on a notepad.
  • Passing time on the road becomes an occasion for storytelling and games.
  • Back at the office, we're passing time by competing in a spontaneous trivia game.
  • When she slipped on the icy sidewalk, a stranger offered to help up, and they ended up passing the time at a nearby café.

Examples of "Passing Time" in Pop Culture

This expression often pops up in pop culture, especially when characters have time to kill.

  • In the song “Passing the Time” by Cream, the lyrics go: “It is a cold winter / Away is the songbird / And gone is her traveler / She waits at home.” The song is about the melancholy feelings during winter."
  • In the song “Glimpse of Us” by Joji, there are lyrics that say: “'Cause sometimes I look in her eyes / And that’s where I find a glimpse of us / And I try to fall for her touch / But I’m thinking of the way it was / Said I’m fine and said I moved on / I’m only here passing time in her arms.”
  • An article titled “Passing Time: Bruno Latour’s Challenge to Philosophy” discusses how philosopher Bruno Latour’s ontology allows us to think again about the "passing of time."

Other Ways to Say "Passing Time"

Here are some alternative phrases you can use:

  • Killing time
  • While away the hours
  • Fill the time
  • Make time go by
  • Waste some time
  • Keep busy
  • Stay occupied
  • Do something for a bit
  • Burn some time
  • Take up time

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Passing Time":

  • What does "passing time" mean?

"Passing time" refers to spending time in a particular way, often while waiting for something else to happen. It can be anything from reading a book to watching TV.

  • How can I use "passing time" in a sentence?

You can use it to describe how someone is spending their time. For example: "She's passing time by knitting" or "I passed some time by chatting with friends.

  • Is it mainly a casual expression?

"Passing time" is flexible and can be used in both casual and formal settings. You might hear it during casual conversations or read it in literature.

  • Can it refer to a larger span of time?

Yes, it can refer to both short and long periods. You can "pass time" for a few minutes or even years, depending on the context.

  • Is it always about killing time?

No, "passing time" doesn't always imply wasting time or killing time. It can also mean spending time in a worthwhile or productive manner.

  • How does it relate to the concept of boredom?

While "passing time" can be used when someone is bored and looking for something to do, it doesn't necessarily mean the person is bored. They could be engaged in an enjoyable activity.

  • Does it appear in songs or movies?

Yes, the phrase often appears in songs, movies, and books to evoke a sense of time's passage or how characters are coping with situations.

  • Is it a universal concept?

Yes, the concept of "passing time" is universal, as it relates to the human experience of waiting or engaging in activities to make time go by.

  • Can it imply a sense of waiting?

Yes, "passing time" often has a sense of waiting for something else to happen, like waiting for a friend to arrive or for an event to start.

  • Is it used differently in different cultures?

The basic concept is the same, but how time is "passed" can vary between cultures. For example, some cultures might favor social activities, while others may prefer solitary ones.

Final Thoughts About "Passing Time"

The idiom "passing time" is a common way to talk about how we spend our moments, minutes, or even years. It's flexible and can be used in a variety of situations, both casual and formal.

Here's a quick recap:

  • It's a phrase that describes how time is spent, either productively or just to make time go by.
  • It's not limited to casual conversations and can be found in a range of contexts.
  • The phrase can suggest either waiting for something or being engaged in an activity.
  • "Passing time" is a universal concept that varies in its specifics from culture to culture.

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