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Another question from the world of Charles Dickens.... In Great Expectations, the police sergeant says the following to Mr. Pumblechook:

"Would you give me the Time!"

I was surprised at this capitalization of "time"; in all situations I've seen thus far, it has been lowercase. Additionally, Should "time" be capitalized in "it was his time [to go]" clearly states that "time" is a common noun and should not be capitalized.

Why did Dickens capitalize here? Can you provide any background of the history of "time" being used thus? Thank you.

  • None of the 19th century scanned copies in Google books I checked capitalizes time here, not does Project Gutenberg (based on OCR from the 1867 edition). – Peter Shor Apr 9 '17 at 19:53
  • @Peter, it is not. This 1860 edition has "Time"; but "time" a couple of lines below. – Jacinto Apr 9 '17 at 19:55
  • Then maybe it's a typo in the 1860 serial. It seems to have been changed in the 1867 edition. – Peter Shor Apr 9 '17 at 19:55
  • @Peter, in fact, all 19th century copies in Google Books I can see have "Time"! what's going on? – Jacinto Apr 9 '17 at 20:07
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    It's vaguely possible that a proofreader or whatever mistook it for a reference to The Times, or perhaps a wink to a competing magazine that was called "The Time" at that time. (Wouldn't have been the US Time magazine, of course, as that wasn't founded for another 50 years.) – Hot Licks Apr 9 '17 at 20:14
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As Jacinto indicates in a comment above, the original serialized version of Great Expectations— where the extract in question appeared in the December 15, 1860 edition of All the Year Round—capitalizes Time early in the sentence, but lowercases time at the end of the sentence:

"Would you give me the Time?" said the sergeant, addressing himself to Mr. Pumblechook, as to a man whose appreciative powers justified the inference that he was equal to the time.

A search of volume 4 of All the Year Round (October 13, 18690, through March 22, 1861) finds 78 pages containing the term "the time" (sometimes more than once) in the course of the volume—and in 77 of those instances, the term is spelled all-lowercase. The only exception is the sentence that the poster asks about. It therefore appears that the consistent preference of the publication was for "the time" (all lowercase) and that the single instance of "the Time" was probably an error.

The reason that some subsequent editions retained "the Time" in that sentence is that any editor or proofreader who noticed the inconsistency in the original edition must have decided that it was intentional rather than accidental. Legacy errors of this type are a common affliction in publishing.

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