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Which of the following is more correct, and why? My attempts at Googling haven't produced a definitive answer, and all seem as sensible as each other going from base definitions.

  • Lost in the mists of time
  • Lost in the midst of time (or, possibly, midsts)
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closed as general reference by FumbleFingers, Robusto, tchrist, Mahnax, MετάEd Aug 31 '12 at 5:31

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Does your dictionary have an entry for midsts? If not, I would think that is your answer. –  TimLymington Aug 29 '12 at 15:39
    
The plural of midst would indicate several places are in the middle of something (or perhaps some things), but the usage doesn't really belong in this context. –  Zairja Aug 29 '12 at 15:48
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Related: Lost in the sands of time vs Lost in these hands of time. :^) –  J.R. Aug 29 '12 at 15:52
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it's an eggcorn: see midst, and for the other mistaken direction mist –  Mitch Aug 29 '12 at 16:14
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This is General Reference. Google Books claims 257,000 instances of "mists of time", but only 14 for "midsts of time". I'm surprised there were even that many. –  FumbleFingers Aug 29 '12 at 16:43

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

"Lost in the mists of time" is the typical phrase. The other is not and may come from people mishearing the phrase or people wanting an alternative construction (with a different meaning). If you do insist on using the latter, then it makes more sense to say, "lost in the midst of time" or "lost amongst moments of time".

I would read the two differently in the first place, though. The "mists of time" indicates something long ago, "lost in the fog" as it were. Being "lost in the midst of time" would indicate you're lost in the middle of time, which doesn't have any clear meaning to me unless you're a time-traveler. NewAlexandria's answer points out one potential reading (many online do, in fact, turn out to involve time travel or weird, mystical experiences that deviate from the typical phrase and its meaning).

The phrase "midst of time" does return plenty of results in Google (~80 000) but not nearly as many as "mist of time" or "mists of time" (~4 000 000). People may certainly extract meaning from using midst, as long as they're using it for the right purpose. They do not express the same thing.

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My understanding is that the term is "Lost in the midst of time" (singular) but that this has been corrupted (possibly intentionally as a pun?)

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The other way round, I think. –  StoneyB Aug 29 '12 at 17:04
    
YMMV but I'll stick with my version, unless someone can prove the taxonomy. But I certainly remember my English Master (many years ago) bemoaning the corruption of midst to mists –  Andrew Aug 29 '12 at 17:27
    
@Andrew Perhaps I should have included this in my answer, but I did various searches in the BYU Corpora (link is for American English 1810-2009, though I looked at the modern usage and in British English, too). I don't recall one result for "midsts of time". "Midst of time" occurs rarely and only to mean the middle of time (as opposed to the beginning or end, or to contrast against that which is timeless). "Mists of time" is common with meanings akin to "sands of time". –  Zairja Aug 29 '12 at 18:26
    
@Andrew And one of the earliest examples I found was in 1848: "...have suffered their ritual to decay, their ceremonies to degenerate.... Yes, the tradition which commanded them to meet, may have been lost in the mists of time, and the clamors of battle, and the changes of circumstances." From the beginning, the usage is poetical and not a corruption or mistake. –  Zairja Aug 29 '12 at 18:32
    
Perhaps the analogy with "sands of time" is relevant... this indicates the passing of time in an hourglass. The midst of time indicates not at the beginning, and not in the present - but somewhere in the part in-between. There are no "mists" in time... –  Andrew Aug 29 '12 at 19:00

The colloquialism "midst of time" means 'in the moment' - as in to be lost in the moment.

The "mists of time" is an expression involving an epic scale of time - very opposite to the midst(s) of a moment.

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