Mindy: That clock on the wall is so strange!
Henry: What’s so strange about it?
Mindy: Its minute hand is moving in counterclockwise direction.
Henry: No, it’s moving in clockwise direction!
Mindy: No, it’s moving in counterclockwise direction!
Henry: Hey, you are looking at the clock through the mirror!

Is the last sentence in this dialogue correct? If not, what's the best way to point to Mindy on her mistake here?

  • I think it hardly matters. Whether in the mirror or through the mirror, virtually no listener would trip over either preposition.
    – Robusto
    Mar 20 '11 at 1:20
  • Just not through the looking-glass ... I don't know what you'd find there.
    – jbelacqua
    Mar 20 '11 at 6:49
  • 1
    Note that it's a bit unnatural to say "*in clockwise direction" etc. and it would be better just to say "clockwise" :)
    – psmears
    Mar 20 '11 at 7:44
  • 1
    @brilliant (Oh, and in UK English, "anticlockwise" is much more common than "counterclockwise". I think the latter is the more common in the US, but I'm not certain :)
    – psmears
    Mar 20 '11 at 9:59
  • 1
    @psmears: In American English, almost everybody says "counterclockwise". Mar 20 '11 at 12:36

Through the mirror is uncommon usage, apparently in both British and American English. Typically one would use in the mirror, so Oh! You're looking at the clock in the mirror. Perhaps Oh! You're seeing the clock through the mirror would be be best, as seeing... through is a common construct (more commonly with windows). The verb seeing emphasizes the perception, whereas looking emphasizes the directing of attention.


Warning: physics ahead.

The common usage reflects what's actually happening to the light rays that bounce off the object.

Mirrored objects appear to be inside the mirror. Through the mirror implies the object is on the other side of the mirror and the light is passing through the mirror. Light doesn't pass through a mirror, it reflects off it.

Thus you can see something through a window. The object is actually on the other side of the window and the light passes through the glass to you.

  • 1
    So how would you describe Mindy's mistake here?
    – brilliant
    Mar 20 '11 at 0:29
  • 1
    There are many phases that are not logically or scientifically correct, but which are still valid use. The title of Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass" indicates it's a fantasy because we all know one can't pass through a mirror. So, I'm not sure if the usage is incorrect. It's not - in my experience - a common usage. The mistake if there is one, is mixing Carroll's usage to indicate fantasy with the common usage. Mar 21 '11 at 4:51

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