Daylight(-)Saving Time

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Julian Hook writes:

The attached plot corroborates my vague recollections: a few decades ago many people spelled Daylight-Saving Time with a hyphen, but now almost nobody does.

The hyphen makes sense by the same logic as the hyphens in other N-Ving compounds like man-eating and blood-curdling. (Those who would object that Daylight-Saving Time doesn’t actually save any daylight should consider that man-eating plants and blood-curdling screams don’t really do what the words say they do either.)

More interesting than the punctuation, perhaps, is the pronunciation. Every other N-Ving compound I can think of is accented on the initial noun, but for some reason everybody seems to accent Daylight-Saving Time on Saving. Why do we do this? Could it have something to do with the fact that the noun daylight is itself a compound, with a secondary stress on the second syllable? And could this pronunciation explain the disappearance of the hyphen—if, perhaps, the odd stress pattern disguises the logic of the compound?

I agree that the pronunciation is weird. In general, phrases of the form [[Noun-Verbing] Noun] have main stress on the final noun and secondary stress on the initial noun — so we don't say "man-EATING shark" or "blood-CURDLING screams" or "time-SAVING devices" or "record-BREAKING totals" or "game-WINNING shot" (if you'll excuse the crude capitalization-for-main-stress notation).

And I don't think that the initial noun in Daylight Saving Time being a compound is the explanation — a "treetop-hugging flight" is not a treetop HUGGING flight.

I'm really not sure why the stress has landed so firmly on "saving" — but the confusion doesn't end there, because the version "daylight savings time" has become just about as popular:

One possibility is that the expression is intrinsically contrastive, in the way that e.g. "Eastern Standard Time" contrasts with "Eastern Daylight Time".


  1. Joseph C. Fineman said,

    March 12, 2017 @ 7:11 pm

    For me, there is primary stress on both "daylight" and "saving". I agree that that is an oddity, but cf. "the Empire State Building", with likewise two primary stresses.

    I wonder if the "savings" version might have been inspired by the (irrelevant) financial sense of "savings", which is invariably plural ("savings bank", etc.). It still sounds barbarous to me. However, I was already in my 40s when (according to your graph) "daylight savings time" took off.

    [(myl) But the constituent phrase "Empire State" has final main stress, unlike Noun Verbing compounds like "point shaving" or "log rolling" or "table banging".]

  2. Victor Mair said,

    March 12, 2017 @ 7:14 pm

    My recollection is that when we were young, half a century and more ago, back in Osnaburg Township, Ohio, we said ""daylight savings time", and many of us even wrote it with an apostrophe.

    "daylight savings time" 756,000 ghits

    "daylight saving time" 12,000,000 ghits

    "daylight saving's time" 6,770 ghits

  3. Andy said,

    March 12, 2017 @ 7:24 pm

    Does it belong to a class of three-word 'times'? Greenwich Mean Time (which also stresses both first words equally, I would say), Eastern Standard Time (not sure, as I live in GMT zone).

  4. Bob Ladd said,

    March 12, 2017 @ 7:35 pm

    @ MYL, Joseph Fineman: I agree with J.F. that Empire State Building is weird in exactly the same way as Daylight Saving Time, and I disagree with Mark that Empire State by itself is weak-strong (aka "has final main stress"). To me, all those state nicknames are strong-weak (Bay State, Empire State, Nutmeg State, Keystone State, etc. etc.). I think the prosodic configuration exemplified by both Daylight Saving Time and Empire State Building (namely, left-branching

    [[x y] z]

    with strong-weak on both [x y] and on the whole thing) is inherently unstable, and likely to get sporadically restructured.

  5. Michael Latta said,

    March 12, 2017 @ 9:27 pm

    Does the pronunciation change during the weeks when the clocks are changed?

  6. Peter Taylor said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 2:33 am

    Possibly I was primed by Joseph Fineman's comment on plural "savings", but I thought the apostrophe placement in Victor Mair's "daylight saving's time" seemed odd. Something curious happened when I tried to continue his table: for "daylight saving's time" Google told me it was searching instead for "daylight savings time" and offered the option of really searching for what I had said originally; for "daylight savings' time" it gave me results for "daylight savings time" without saying anything or offering the option of forcing the apostrophe.

  7. cliff arroyo said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 4:39 am

    Native US English speaker here, I've always said daylight savings time (never imagined an apostrophe and I associated with savings, as in a bank as irrational as that might sound). I first became consciously aware of the concept about the time the plural form started taking off.

    I never realized until this post that daylight saving time was a thing. My brain probably supplied the 'missing' s anytime I saw or heard daylight saving time which sounds weird if I say it out loud.

  8. flow said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 5:09 am

    "associated with savings, as in a bank as irrational as that might sound"—not so irrational when you picture DST to be the time when by mere better use of the daylight there is, you can procure yourself some savings, in hard currency (at least that seems to have been the idea back in the day). That is, it is a time (as in: a convention, or mode of operation) that promises savings from (better use of) daylight.

    In that light, daylight saving time is rather more opaque, as it is difficult to see what daylight is saved during that time when, with the sun rising and shining and setting all the same.

  9. James said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 5:25 am

    Native US speaker. I think I've mostly said 'savings', except when I've just looked at the phrase in print.

    I wonder whether 'Thanksgiving' is relevant? (See this old LL post, and the other ones linked there.)

  10. John said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 5:43 am

    Here in the UK, I just say summer time which avoids the debate.

    Daylight is being saved, to be used during free time rather than getting-ready-for-work time, although this is really only true in April and October (I can't be bothered to check the North American dates)

  11. S Frankel said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 9:15 am

    Native US English speaker here, living about a mile and a half (2 km) from the Empire State Building. I always assumed that "Daylight Saving Time" was just a simplification of the consonant cluster and, in writing, the usual apostrophobia,, and nothing more interesting that that.

  12. Gabe Burns said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 9:24 am

    @flow @cliff arroyo My experience with the term is similar to Cliff's (I always thought of it as savings as in savings account). However I certainly don't think of it as saving, money, but rather as saving daylight in the original sense, with the monetary connection as merely an analogy. Just as one might set aside a portion of one's excess income for, say, retirement, college, or emergencies, daylight saving[s] time "saves" early-morning daylight for when it will be more useful (in the evening). The analogy is of course flawed. We can't build up a reserve of daylight over the course of several days and then spend it later (if we could I suspect we'd keep it until winter). All we can really do is adjust our own daily schedules and routines to make better use of the daylight we get. I suspect this is why Cliff thought the bank association might sound irrational.

  13. Dan said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 10:18 am

    "Daylight Saving Time" to me would suggest that time itself was acting or being acted upon in some way to save daylight (like with "money saving tips"). Whereas "Daylight Saving Time" just suggests that it's a special period of time in which one saves daylight (like "showtime" or "party time" or "Ordinary Time").

  14. BZ said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:07 am

    I think these types of hyphens are only consistently applied when there is an ambiguity, but since "Saving Time" isn't a thing on its own, there is no ambiguity. Certainly by the time I came to the US from Russia (1991) the "savings" version was predominant, so I didn't think much about the meaning of its components (the Russian equivalent is summer time), but just took it as a set phrase. Some time between then and now (I don't recall when exactly), it became fashionable for the news media to remind people that there is no "s", so to me it always seemed like the frequency of "savings" has decreased, as I only recall seeing and hearing the "saving" version in the past decade or so. If this trend does exist, it doesn't show up on the ngram viewer, but that only goes up to 2008

  15. Tom Dawkes said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:24 am

    There seems to be a trend to stressing the later and final elements of phrases, even where this causes the emphasis to move from the element the speaker wishes to be understood as highlighted. The BBC Radio 4 programmes give any number of instances, not all of which can be attributed to misread written scripts, as the phenomenon occurs in impromptu discussions. Kingsley Amis drew attention to this in an essay in Ian Robinson's "Survival of English" (1973), where he recalls hearing an actress deliver " O! it is excellent / To have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous / To use it like a GIANT" (Measure for Measure II,2), where the stress should fall on USE, to contrast with HAVE

  16. Rodger C said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:49 am

    Surely at least one historian has written a book about [empire [state-building]].

  17. Jonathan Smith said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:52 am

    Re: Joseph C. Fineman's comment, EMpire state (= New York) is surely an initial stress, so EMPire STATE building (with byproduct EMpire STATE = the building) does look like a good parallel for DAYlight SAVings time. So the stress looks like a product of lexicalization; i.e., "the EMpire state's BUILdings" but "the EMpire STATE building", "DAYlight saving EFForts" but "DAYlight SAVings time", etc. At any rate, I have convinced myself it is regular. DAYtime RUNning lights, etc.

  18. Nicholas said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 12:22 pm

    I don't hear a hyphen when Blossom Dearie sings "There ought to be a moonlight saving time".

  19. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 1:54 pm

    The google n-gram viewer reveals that for a brief period from around 1995 through 2001 "daylight savings time" (case-insensitive) was in some years more common than "daylight saving time." Perhaps more importantly, during the decades running up that inflection point (i.e. the decades during which my own native-speaker sensibilities were being formed) the slope for the "savings" variant is much steeper as it moves from being a decided minority variant to converging on parity. To the extent the google books corpus is overweight with texts that have been proofread/copyedited and thus may skew toward the "proper" of "official" variant, that might suggest that "savings" was, for a while at least, the dominant variant in informal/spoken contexts.

  20. Kenneth Trease said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 3:31 pm

    Amusingly, LL has covered this before.

  21. Rubrick said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 5:52 pm

    I learned the term as a child in the 1970s, as Daylight Savings Time, and to me it was simply an arbitrary label (somewhat analagous to the names of time zones themselves: Eastern Standard Time, Daylight Savings Time, whatever…) not something compositional. It never dawned on me (possibly until this day) to actually break it down into the more-or-less sensible idea of "time [adjustment] which saves daylight".

    Of course, at some point it must have been compositional, and it seems likely the first users of the term did put the emphasis on DAY.

  22. Joseph F Foster said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 7:16 pm

    I was born in in the Arkansas in June 1943 and my birth certificate reads '7:20 AM CWT', the initials being abbreviatory for "Central War Time", We always said it with the stress on 'War'. I like the "intrinsic contrastive stress' (as opposed to Central Standard Time–stress on 'Time') idea floated many comments above, or maybe in the post original.

  23. Geoff said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 8:11 pm

    60yo Australian here: We have 'daylight saving' (dumdi DUMdi). I would rarely hear or say 'daylight saving time'. If I did, it would be dumdi DUMdi dum

    I've always said 'Empire State building ' as 'dumdidi DUM did-di ['did' expresses the fact that 'build' is a longer syllable, though not more stressed]. I suppose I was unconsciously parsing it as [x [y z]]. Maybe there was an Empire Federal Building somewhere else. It never occurred to me that 'Empire State' was a constituent before reading this thread. Now I don't know how to say it.

  24. Rubrick said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 5:03 pm

    @Geoff: Thanks for the Empire State Building example; I was trying to find such a thing and couldn't think of one. I think that's very closely analagous. And indeed it never occurred to me that New York was the Empire State until long after I learned the name of the building.

    I have a vague feeling that there's an aversion to an intial stressed syllable followed by a long string of unstressed or weakly stressed syllables (EMpirestatebuilding), but I certainly don't have any concrete evidence.

  25. Crispinian Parr said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 9:44 pm

    'A "treetop-hugging flight" is not a treetop HUGGING flight.'
    I suppose it would be, if the purpose of the flight were for the passengers to hug one another as the plane skimmed over the treetops.

  26. Jonathan Smith said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 11:54 pm

    @Crispinian Parr That's syntax, not a lexicalized noun phrase. That said, main stress to the right over trailing syllables does seem to occur only in certain circumstances, maybe when semantics permits a reanalysis of constitutent structure?
    EMpire state
    empire STATE building
    DAta processing
    data PROcessing center
    DAta analysis
    data anALysis report (or stays DAta analysis report?)
    inforMAtion retrieval
    information reTRIEval process
    INternet service
    internet SERvice provider
    AIR traffic control
    air traffic conTROL tower
    Perhaps LLers will have opinions regarding "speech recognition software/technology", etc… online I am hearing any of the three words selected for main stress.

  27. Rodger C said,

    March 15, 2017 @ 12:45 pm

    I have a vague feeling that there's an aversion to an intial stressed syllable followed by a long string of unstressed or weakly stressed syllables

    An aversion that goes all the way to the Prezza United States.

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