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Dear EnglishStackExchange users,

I have been reading a book written by S. King, "Under the Doom." The author is from the New England--if I am not mistaken--and the story in the book unfolds in the same state.

On this book, I have read a way to tell the time of which I have never heard. It uses "of" and I have read on this chapter of stack.exchange its meaning: e.g. fifteen of three = 2,45. Without that explanation I would still be wondering whether "fifteen of three" meant 2,45 or 3,15.

My question now is the following: is this a New England expression to tell the time?

I have this doubt because I asked the meaning of "fifteen of three" to some Americans (from Minnesota, California and Colorado) and none of them has ever heard of it.

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    I think five of three, a quarter of three, (and similar expressions) are pretty common in all of the U.S. Or at least they were until the advent of digital clocks. They mean 2:55 and 2:45. To me, "fifteen of three" sounds unusual because I would have expected "quarter of three" instead. Sep 11, 2017 at 7:36
  • ya, sure, probably it is "quarter of..." on the book too, and I just misremembered
    – Fuca26
    Sep 11, 2017 at 7:39
  • Note that usages may be idiosyncratic. 'Twenty past ten' is idiomatic, whereas 'seventeen past ten' isn't. I've come across 'a quarter of three', but never 'fifteen of three' (unless it was a Borg I've forgotten). Sep 11, 2017 at 10:37

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The OED has:

N. Amer., Sc., and Irish English (north.). In expressing the time: from or before (a specified hour); = to prep. 6b.

It also appears in the Dictionary of the Scots Language:

4 (ii) In telling the time: to (Uls. 1953 Traynor), before (an hour) (Sh., ne.Sc., Uls. 1964).

So it is not restricted to American English (although the OED's label of "N.Amer." shouldn't necessarily to be taken to mean it is widespread across the US or across North America).

M-W includes this sense of "of" and doesn't mark it as dialectal, so it seems to be considered standard usage:

11 b : before : a quarter of ten

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  • it is very interesting that you mention scots and irish, in my original post I originally wanted to write "is this a British/New England expression to tell the time" [ok, Ireland is not Great Britain, but at the time of the great migrations from Europe to US it was British]
    – Fuca26
    Sep 11, 2017 at 8:11

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