what's the meaning of "run by a stopwatch"? I found it in this sentence : "The pressing problem for Blackmore was making a quick adjustment to the American lifestyle that felt like it was run by a stopwatch."

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    A stopwatch measures time precisely. Some cultures feel like the American lifestyle is too fast-paced. Apparently, Blackmore had to adjust to a life-style "run" by the idea that every hour, minute and second was being measured by a stopwatch.
    – ScotM
    Feb 9, 2015 at 9:00

3 Answers 3


What ScotM said: 'A stopwatch measures time precisely. Some cultures feel like the American lifestyle is too fast-paced. Apparently, Blackmore had to adjust to a life-style "run" by the idea that every hour, minute and second was being measured by a stopwatch.'

Also, when the the text uses the idea of a lifestyle run (governed) by a stopwatch, it's the idea of running a race or doing everything quickly, as though you were timed.

See time-and-motion studies for an example of the degree to which a fast pace and efficiency are considered important. In contrast, Blackmore's Australian culture seems more laid-back.


To live by the clock means

time rules your schedule: fixed times for getting up, breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime, and a crammed schedule in between. It also means a person who is living by the clock is very punctual, and gets nervous when they get (for instance) in a traffic jam and are going to be late for an appointment. So: in general: very busy, and trying hard to be punctual.

icqanne, Yahoo Answers.

If one likes to call this an idiom, it is very transparent (though 'by the clock' is a fixed phrase). The sense of the preposition 'by' here is AHDEL's 8a:

  1. a. According to: played by the rules.

but there is doubtless a connotation of

  1. Through the agency or action [or sway] of: was killed by a bullet [/was ruled by a tyrant].

ie a suggestion of forces beyond one's control.

Here, [your lifestyle is] run by a stopwatch is even closer to 'time rules your schedule' in that time (ie time constraints applied by the system or one's own compulsions) is personified as a slave-driver. One who deals in split seconds rather than minutes.

  • Time, that cruel tyrant! +1
    – user98990
    Feb 9, 2015 at 10:36

This is an allusion to the influence in the United States of 1) Frederick Taylor and his Scientific management system (also called Taylorism), 2) the Motion Study work of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth 3) Henry Ford’s mass production factory system. The integration of these three factors ushered in what might be called, the American Reign of the Stopwatch

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Frederick Winslow Taylor (March 20, 1856 – March 21, 1915) was an American mechanical engineer who sought to improve industrial efficiency. He was one of the first management consultants. Taylor was one of the intellectual leaders of the Efficiency Movement and his ideas, broadly conceived, were highly influential in the Progressive Era. Taylor summed up his efficiency techniques in his book The Principles of Scientific Management.

In 1898 he joined Bethlehem Steel in order to solve an expensive machine-shop capacity problem. As a result, he and Maunsel White, with a team of assistants, developed high speed steel, paving the way for greatly increased mass production.

Implementing Taylor’s theories, Ford Motor Company ultimately produced over 15 million Model Ts between 1908 and 1927. As you will explore in greater detail later in this reading, Henry Ford’s ambitious production efforts decreased the cost of production, which allowed for lower prices in the market place.

Scientific Management and the Ford Motor Company

A time and motion study (or time-motion study) is a business efficiency technique combining the Time Study work of Frederick Winslow Taylor with the Motion Study work of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth (the same couple as is best known through the biographical 1950 film and book Cheaper by the Dozen). It is a major part of scientific management (Taylorism).

After its first introduction, time study developed in the direction of establishing standard times, while motion study evolved into a technique for improving work methods. The two techniques became integrated and refined into a widely accepted method applicable to the improvement and upgrading of work systems. This integrated approach to work system improvement is known as methods engineering and it is applied today to industrial as well as service organizations, including banks, schools and hospitals.

Time Motion Studies

The Car & Life in America. In the early 20th century, cars entered mass production. In 1907, 45,000 cars were produced in The United States, but 28 years later in 1935 3,971,000 were produced, nearly 100 times as many. This increase in production required a large, new work force. In 1913 13,623 people worked at Ford Motor Company, but by 1915 18,028 people worked there. Bradford DeLong, author of The Roaring Twenties, tells us that, "Many more lined up outside the Ford factory for chances to work at what appeared to them to be (and, for those who did not mind the pace of the assembly line much, was) an incredible boondoggle of a job." There was a surge in the need for workers at big, new high-technology companies such as Ford. Employment largely increased.

The Car & America

"I hear an invisible stopwatch ticking even when I’m supposed to be having fun."

Life in the Fast Lane

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    It would be fairer on the reader to explain where your quotes / pseudoquotes come from. OED, Little Eva, Urban Dictionary, Mad Magazine – they don't all carry the same gravitas. And 'Reign of the Stopwatch' is a shoe-in for a film title or novel ... Feb 9, 2015 at 11:47
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    I use the term for the grey areas where the words form a coherent string but aren't (or aren't definitely) a verbatim record of speech / writing. On the internet are examples of the use of bid and wish both as reporting verbs proper and quote verbs: He bade us welcome. // ... bade us "Goodbye". [unusual] /// He wished us a merry Christmas. // He wished us 'Merry Christmas'. (It's acceptable to drop the comma / colon before opening quotation marks.) The distinction can blur further. //// Putting 'Reign of the Stopwatch' in italics made me wonder if it was say a title (of a work by DeLong?) Feb 9, 2015 at 12:36
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    Don't worry about it; italics (and inverted commas) are overworked. Italics to emphasise / highlight (for whatever reason the writer chooses) are acceptable. In a related vein, I recently had to check 'data collection cycle' on the internet to see if it (a) was an accepted compound noun, (b) had an agreed definition. It (a) is an accepted term, but (b) comes in slightly different flavours, and exam boards are always prescriptivist. Feb 9, 2015 at 12:43
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    There's a thread dealing with 'punctuation before opening inverted commas' (and another dealing with capitalisation of first words, and 'handling "quotations" of thoughts etc') somewhere here. Essentially, I'd say the position many recommend nowadays is 'Choose the comma, colon or zero punctuation as you think best fits the individual case'. I've seen it in a guide I'd tell traditionalists to direct their wrath at. Feb 9, 2015 at 13:13
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    @LittleEva, that's the stuff I was missing in your original answer--walking me through your thoughts makes this answer complete, so I'd suggest merging these two last comments into the answer itself. (I'd do it myself, but you have way more experience here than I do, so I'm not sure it's my place to edit your answers.)
    – Mathieu K.
    Feb 18, 2015 at 5:36

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