Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere. It was the shortest day of the year, and from now on the days will get longer.

winter solstice sunrise

This came up when I was talking to a Chinese friend yesterday, and she said that it was the longest night, and that the nights will get shorter from now on.

It struck me that this was an interesting perspective, and I wondered if this was a culture difference or just her.

Are the days getting longer or the nights getting shorter for you?

Is the glass half full or half empty?

Another thing I noticed recently is that the Dutch word lang means both long and tall. For example, to ask how tall someone is you would say “Hoe lang ben je?” (“How long are you?”), to which I would reply “Ik ben één meter zevenenzestig centimeter lang” (“I am 1m 67cm long”). When you translate it literally into English it sounds a bit strange, at least to me.

4 thoughts on “Perspective

  1. To me, it’s not much of a debate. The days are getting longer. Since I spend most of the night hours sleeping, the fact that the night is getting shorter isn’t the important factor. Days are “where it’s at” for most people’s list of activities.

  2. Simon: A small point – it’s solstice, not ‘solistice’. Nollick Ghennal ort (Happy Christmas to you).

  3. The oddest, most interesting aspect of the use of “long” in English (at least my variant), is that when you put it in the future tense it goes from being about space to being about time: “How long are you?” vs. “How long will you be?”.

    (Admittedly, the former does sound either a bit stilted or like a sex thing, but it’s definitely about the spatial dimension!)

  4. The change from space to time occurs even if the future tense is implied: “How long are you staying?” really means “How long will you be staying?” and thus implicitly gets the space-to-time change.

    I suspect this implied future tense happens in other languages too, since it allows us to use a simpler conjugation of a verb: “I am going home tomorrow” vs. “I will be going home tomorrow”. The presence of “tomorrow” obviates the need to change the conjugation of “I am” and it takes fewer words. (In the end, laziness usually wins out.)

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