I'm reading a book on philosophical puzzles and problems. At a certain point it reads (as an aside comment, not as part of a puzzle):

"Before moving to Sweden, Descartes had a lifetime habit of staying in bed till 11.00 a.m. After only a few months in the cold northern climate, walking to the palace for 5 o'clock every morning, he died."

Any special reason for using "for" instead of "at five o'clock"? Can it be a pun? Am I missing something?

From Wikipedia - "Queen Christina of Sweden invited Descartes to her court in 1649 to organize a new scientific academy and tutor her in his ideas about love." The strange thing is that she wanted classes at 5.00 a.m. (!!!)

Some may label this question as "proofreading". I understand it is specifically about prepositions, though.


  • context - From Wikipedia: "Queen Christina of Sweden invited Descartes to her court in 1649 to organize a new scientific academy and tutor her in his ideas about love. She was interested in and stimulated Descartes to publish the "Passions of the Soul", a work based on his correspondence with Princess Elisabeth. He was a guest at the house of Pierre Chanut, less than 500 meters from Tre Kronor in Stockholm. Soon it became clear they did not like each other; she did not like his mechanical philosophy, he did not appreciate her interest in Ancient Greek. By 15 January 1650, Descartes had seen Christina only four or five times. On 1 February he caught a cold which quickly turned into a serious respiratory infection, and he died on 11 February."

Some authors believe that walking to the castle at 5.00 a.m. in Stockholm, in January and February, contributed to his catching pneumonia and dying.

  • 2
    It is poorly worded. And, in fact, the wording may be a part of the puzzle. – Hot Licks Mar 28 '15 at 21:33
  • Surely a (lifetime - several months) [that's a minus sign] habit? – Edwin Ashworth Mar 28 '15 at 21:57
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    @HotLicks It is completely clear and obvious to a British English speaker. It is interesting that it isn't clear to a US English speaker of course. – dorothy Mar 29 '15 at 9:29
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    @dorothy: Judgments about speakers of US English, based on an extremely limited sampling, are unwarranted and in fact a bit dismissive. – Robusto Mar 29 '15 at 10:40
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    @Robusto I think you misunderstood me in at least two ways. First I wrote "a US English speaker" and second my intention was to be anything but dismissive. It was exactly to say that my comment about the obviousness to British English speakers wasn't to dismiss any conversation about its non-obviousness to non-British English speakers. – dorothy Mar 29 '15 at 10:45

It means he aimed to arrive at 5 o'clock. Had it read "walking to the palace at 5 o'clock" it would not have been clear if that was the time he left, some time during the walk or the time at the end of the walk.

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    Exactly. I do not understand why this obvious fact escaped others. It is quite normal (at least in Britain) to say something like he gets into work for 6 o'clock every morning. – WS2 Mar 28 '15 at 22:30
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    I've never heard this usage anywhere in the US. I certainly wouldn't count it "obvious". – Matt Gutting Mar 28 '15 at 22:39
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    Indeed, the US usage would be "gets into work by 6 o'clock" (or even "at 6" depending on your emphasis). – Lynn Mar 29 '15 at 3:54
  • @MattGutting It is obvious to a native British English speaker. – dorothy Mar 29 '15 at 8:50
  • @Lynn The use of "for" is subtly different. It implies that it is your aim to be there by 5 o'clock, not that you necessarily always succeed. Actually, to be more accurate, it implies that you are supposed to be there by 5 o'clock. – dorothy Mar 29 '15 at 9:30

Apparently, this is a common way, in British English, of expressing that he walked with the intent of arriving AT the indicated place BY the indicated time.

I have never heard this usage "walk...for" in the USA.

(If any other AmE speakers have heard or seen it in AmE, please comment.)

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  • Well, if someone has a regular meeting ingrained into their routine, or just a lot of meetings, it's possible they would use "for", but with a possessive pronoun and omit the word "meeting". For example, George bumped into Greta on the way to the conference room for his 10 o'clock. – Spencer Apr 24 '17 at 2:54
  • Yes, or with an indefinite article in American English at least: I need to go, I have a 2 o'clock. Left out and implied is (meeting/appointment/class/etc.) – Damila Mar 26 '19 at 16:51
  • I don't buy this at all. "We must be there for 5 a.m." would pass muster, walking there for it does not. – Lambie Mar 26 '19 at 17:05
  • @Lambie He had to be at the palace for / by / at "5 o'clock every morning". The fact that he was walking is incidental to the use of "for". – TrevorD Mar 26 '19 at 21:30

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