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The farmyard was deserted. Dieter had gone down the lane with Rupert and Nialla to the river, and by now they had probably already made camp. If I was lucky, I might be just in time for a cup of tea. I felt as if I’d been up all night.

What was the time, anyway?

God blind me with a fish fork! Aunt Felicity’s train was due to arrive at five past ten and I’d completely forgotten about her! Father would have my guts for garters.


Out of the village I went like the wind, southwestwards towards Buckshaw, until I came at last to the Mulford Gates, where Clarence Mundy sat waiting, perched on one of the wings of his taxicab, dragging thirstily at a cigarette. By the snowfall of butts on the road, I could tell that it was not his first.

“Hullo, Clarence,” I said. “How’s the time?”

“Ten hundred hours,” he said, glancing at this elaborate military wristwatch. “Better climb aboard.”

(from ‘The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag’)

Judging from the words, Ten hundred hours, I can guess ‘How’s the time’ may have the same meaning as ‘What is the time.’ Do the two sentences really have the same meaning?

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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The connotations are slightly different. "What is the time" is the more neutral version, and is a simple, casual question. "How is the time" means that you want to know the condition or state of the time, which implies that something about the situation may be time-critical or stressful. People will use the latter when they are worried that the answer will be "too late" for whatever purposes caused them to ask.

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Thank you. From your reply, I can tell that the answer "Then hundred hours" is not correctly saying what time it is, but just try and reassure her that they can get where she is to go in time. –  Listenever Jan 19 '13 at 8:47
    
@Listenever Not true. It is correctly giving the time - in 24h military time. "Ten hundred hours" is another way of saving 10am. The connotation here, however, is that the people speaking are on a sharp deadline and need to hurry. Sometime shortly after 10am, they need to be somewhere. –  Southpaw Hare Jan 19 '13 at 8:49
    
For your information, she has to go to the rail station until Seventeen hundred hours to meet a train. Now she is late to have helped other people, and now late afternoon. But the driver says “Ten hundred hours.” That’s why I said he did not say the exact time. –  Listenever Jan 19 '13 at 8:58
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There are many ways to ask the same question: What time is it?, Have you got the time?, Can you tell me the time, please? (polite), How stands the enemy? (literary/precious), Do you know the time? (risking the answer "Yes, thank you")...

And you seem to have missed the author's point in the second paragraph. The normal answer would be "Ten o'clock" (bad if you are supposed to be meeting the five past ten train); somebody who wishes to show off his elaborate military wristwatch uses the military terminology.

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