The first/second etc. time around:

the first/second etc. time that something happens.

  • Looking after a baby is much easier the second time around.

(Macmillan dictionary)

The expressions appear to be from the early 20th century but their usage literally took off from the '60s and are quite common usage now as suggested by Google books.

Where does this pleonastic usage of "around/round" come from? Does it refer to an old, outdated meaning of around which is not stated here?

  • I'd have thought it was in the sense of 'make a circuit round', why people should have started to regard repeated experiences as circuits at any particular time I couldn't say. Did attending circuit races of various kinds become more popular around that time?
    – Spagirl
    Oct 20, 2017 at 14:27
  • I always figured it referred to a merry-go-round.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 23, 2017 at 23:30

3 Answers 3


The OED offers a phrase definition and early citations, but no etymology for the phrase.

(c) first (also second, next, etc.) time around: on the specified instance of a recurring event or occasion.

In the form "next time around," the phrase is cited in 1887:

After spelling once through the class I..urge them to do as well or better the next time around.

  • School Education · 1887.

Uses I found prior to this citation seem to refer frequently to racing, especially horse racing. Based on the popularity of horse racing around this time, I would speculate that the figurative use of the phrase grew out of references to racing, though there's no proof that it couldn't have grown out of any activity that involves moving in circles.

Apart from horse racing, examples of literal uses from around that time period span a broad spectrum of topics:

  • Knitting

  • Yacht racing

  • Marching in military formation

  • Furnace maintenance

Still, horse racing was a common context.

Considerable time was wasted at the post, Scalper refusing to join his companions. At the seventh attempt a good start was effected. Beverwyck, Miss Moulsey, and Reienzi showing the way over the first two fences, and also over the water the first time around.


Rienzi made play the second time around, and to the finish, winning after a good race by a length and a half.

  • That sounds like a perfectly logical explanation. Essentially it would be about counting revolutions: the action of moving around something in a path that is similar to a circle, Merriam Webster (this excellent definition was reserved, for some reason, to English Language Learners).
    – fralau
    Oct 24, 2017 at 11:13

An Elephind search finds two interesting early occurrences of "X time[s] around" that suggest practical, real-world meanings for the phrase.

First, from "General Post Office," in the [Vincennes, Indiana] Western Sun (August 2, 1817):

If you divide the post roads of the United States into two distinct post routs, the mail will travel each week, in stages, nearly equal to three time[s] around the globe ; and divide all the post roads in the United States into four equal or distinct post routes, on which" the mail is carried in stages, sulkies, and on horseback, it will be equal to a travel of six times, each week, around the globe, averaging one post office for every fifteen miles of post road.

Here, the expression used for "X times around" is a cardinal number rather than ordinal number, but the thing being traveled around X times is the globe; and it would not have been a stretch for the writer, if he had been interested in focusing on the last of the three or six times around the globe, to have used the wording "the third time around the globe" or "the sixth time, this week, around the globe."

Second, from "Evangelical Catechism," quoting John Mines, Leesburg, Virginia, October 1820, printed in the Richmond [Virginia] Family Visitor (August 3, 1822):

New Method of Instructing

If there are teachers enough, the number [of students] in a class should not exceed eight or ten. The teacher, either in a family or Sabbath School, should always set as foreman one of good capacity, and change him for some other, more or less frequently, according to the number of such under his care. Thus prepared, let the teach read the question and answer distinctly, before the whole class. Then let him propose the question to the first [student], and assist him to repeat the answer, all the others giving attention. Then let him propose the same question to the second, and help him as before; and so proceed through the class. If necessary, let the same question pass a second and a third time around, in the same manner, until all can repeat the answer.

It seems clear from the context, that each catechism question is passing a second and third time around the classroom, after having initially made its way past each student in the room a first time around. So if the author had expressed himself fully, he would have said, explicitly "let the same question pass a second and a third time around the room."

In the 1850s, newspapers used "X time around" in the context of horse racing, with the implicit meaning "X time around the track or race course." From "Riding and Driving Match by Ladies," in the the [Richmond, Virginia] Daily Dispatch (October 10, 1855):

An exciting trotting match came off, in which Miss Demarest and Mrs. Whitney drove, each lady availing herself of every advantage that offered. The first heat the horses continued neck and neck, but on the second and third time around Miss Demarest came in ahead.—The driving of Mrs. P. Kinney, Miss Stephens and Mrs. S. Miller was also excellent, and those ladies also received a portion of the applause.

In a similar vein is this instance involving boat racing from "Regatta of the Hoboken Model Yacht Club," in the New York Clipper (September 27, 1856):

Th race now lay between the Walton and Restless, one passing ahead, and then the other, until after turning the stake boat at Amos street, when the Walton was ahead by some lengths, beating the Restless ; but after a second time around the yacht at Hoboken, at the starting point, the Restless gained on the Walton, and was, to all appearances, the victor, but at that moment some rigging gave way, and she lost the race, the Walton winning by some few minutes, and taking the first prize ; the Restless, second, and the Arma, of the second class, third, beating the Audubon, of the first class. The other boats were at this time not "around."

A few months later, the same newspaper uses the expression "the first time around these parts" as an idiomatic expression meaning "the first time in this vicinity." From "Blossoms and Buds in Boston," in the New York Clipper (January 31, 1857):

The Firemen Around Here

A four-wheeled hose carriage is to be introduced for the first time around these parts. It is to be placed in the house now occupied by Maverick Engine Co. No. 9, in Paris street, East Boston, and No. 9's machine will be removed to the basement of the school house in Summer street, E[ast] B[oston].

From the proliferation of examples in the 1850s, I suspect that "X time around" became popular from its use in racing as a short form of "X time around the course." But at the 1822 example indicates, "X time around" could also refer to something passing around a room. Idiomatic use of "X time around" seems to follow naturally from these early literal senses of "X time around."

  • 1
    Another early example, April 1781, Scots Magazine, is "After their having walked the third time round Duke's Place, they entered the synagogue, and were married according to the Jewish rites and ceremonies." books.google.com/…
    – DavePhD
    Oct 26, 2017 at 13:29
  • Josh's account has now been deleted. All that remains is a user-number :(
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 28, 2017 at 21:03
  • @Mari-LouA what happened to Josh? :(
    – DavePhD
    Nov 2, 2017 at 15:35

There are so many examples of cycles in life where it would be appropriate to say "x times around" or "xth time around", but the first example that comes to my mind is Jericho, as described in Joshua 6.

In the words of the 1666 An exact chronological history and full display of popes intollerable usurpations upon the antient just rights, liberties, of the kings, kingdoms, clergy, nobility, commons of England and Ireland:

By Gods special direction He commanded the Priests to compasse Jericho bearing the Ark round about it, seven dayes one after another, which they obeyed, executed without dispute, marching seven times round about it the last day

So this is an example from thousands of years ago where something happens a particular number of times around.

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