Thursday, February 14, 2013

Clockwise: How does one define that word?

This post has very little to do with genealogy. However, readers may still find it interesting.
As everyone learns when they are young, "clockwise," refers to the direction the hands of a clock turn.

But what if the direction the hands of the clock turn depended upon the clock? I'm not referencing the novelty wristwatches marketed by Disney with pitcures of Goofy on them. They are intentionally 'goofy.'

As some may recall, back in July of last year I blogged about a clock tower in Prague, at the Jewish community center next to the Altneu Synagogue, where the hands go "Counter-Clockwise," and have been doing so since 1586. Which, as I mentioned, doesn't make sense linguistically. For that clock, 'clockwise,' is different.

I purchased a wristwatch while in Prague which is modeled after the Altneu Clock-tower. The time on the wristwatch shown is approximately 4:22. (My wife and I were married on April 22nd last year. Prague was our honeymoon. It's not a coincidence that I took the photo at that time.)

The direction of the clock has no relationship to the direction of the written language. Arabic is right-to-left, just like Hebrew. And it is probably Arabic numerals on the watch of most individuals reading this post. Watches and clocks that actually have Roman numerals don't turn in the opposite direction. Apparently, after some research, I have discovered that clocks were originally designed to imitate sundials. Interestingly, sundial movement is different in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, and if clocks had originally been designed in the Southern hemisphere, the usual definition of 'clock-wise' would likely be inverted.

Clocks and watches in Israel all run clockwise. (I shouldn't say "All," but Israel was another stop on our honeymoon, and I did look for watches there that ran counter-clockwise, and found none. I've also looked online since our return, without success. The Altneu wristwatch appears to be unique. And, for what it's worth, I've only seen Altneu-styled watches available online at auction sites such as Ebay. If you can't find it at an auction site, it appears you currently have to go to Prague.)

So - the clock tower in Prague - why does it do that?

Well, the person who designed the clock tower is deceased. (You may recall I mentioned above that it was built in 1586.) I am unaware of any record of his intent. There are actually two clocks on the tower, and the other one does have Roman numerals. Maybe the designer did decide, incorrectly, that the direction should be based on the written language. It's certainly possible Arabic numerals weren't in common usage on clocks in 16th century Prague. Perhaps the designer wanted the Hebrew clock to be 'different' as a metaphor for the community. Lots of possibilities.

Since I am submitting this for this week's SepiaSaturday meme (the soldier in the pic is wearing a watch), I should probably include a photograph more than 12 months old. Here's a photograph/postcard of "The Alt-Neu Synagogue and the Jewish community house," courtesy of the Yad Vashem Photo Archive. You can see both clocks; the Hebrew clock is the lower of the two.

Yad Vashem doesn't put a date on it, but some other sites with the same postcard state it is from 1890. If I were able to identify the motorcar in the photograph, I might be able to be more certain about the date.

Top Photographs - ©2012 John Newmark.


Peter said...

I guess the automobile dates from the 20's. Please have look at the Brussels postcard But it is just a hunch. Cars in the 1890's still looked quite different. For what it is worth.

John said...

That was my initial thought. The car does resemble a Model-T, though I was unsure if earlier autos had similar looks.

Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

I guess there are all kinds of clocks out there. I just saw a clock in the Manchester, NH Millyard Museum where the hands are fixed and the face of the clock turns. Perhaps the clockmaker was experimenting with being unique.

Postcardy said...

It must be hard getting used to a clock running in the opposite direction--kind of like driving on the opposite side of the road or backwards.

Boobook said...

I'd never thought about why the hands of a clock go in a particular direction! So much to learn.

Mike Brubaker said...

When I lived in London, I was confused by the phrase anti-clockwise. Here the term seems more apt. It sparked a puzzle question - How often a day do the two clocks tell the same time?

Should I tell the answer? A clue: more than twice, 12:00 and 6:00.

John said...

I know it's not what you mean, but if the clocks are set correctly, they tell the same time constantly. When it is.2:37 on one clock, it is 2:37 on the other.

Of course, it's 12 and 6 twice a day, and 12:30 and 6:30 twice a day as well. So 8 times a day the clocks look alike. Unless we are defining day as the antonym of night, in which case we need to know the times for sunrise and sunset.

How's that for a complete answer?

John said...

In America the term is counter-clockwise.

Little Nell said...

Well readers certainly did find it interesting. There's always something new to learn on Sepia Saturday!

John said...

Postcardy - forgot to respond to your comment yesterday.

Yes, it has been difficult getting used to it. Though I don't think it would be difficult at all with Arabic (or Roman) numerals. My recognition of the numbers would override any confusion with the direction.

I know the Hebrew numbers, but I'm not used to the language visually, so my brain ignores the numbers and attempts to figure it out positionally. My wife finds it funny that when she asks me what time it is, it takes me 3-5 seconds to respond. But I respond correctly, and I'm getting better.

Bob Scotney said...

I would be that confused by this I would be looking for a digital clock!

Wendy said...

Contemplating clock hands going counter-clockwise is making me dizzy.

North County Film Club said...

I like a clock or watch with big numerals. I hate the kind with no numbers at all. And I'd really be confused with that one that goes counter clockwise. I think it would take me more than 3 - 5 seconds to tell the time. Very interesting post and it reminds me that I really must visit Prague one of these days. It's tops on my wish list.

Brett Payne said...

Not only were postcards pretty unusual in 1890, they had a somewhat different appearance from yours, and the car is most defnitely, as Peter suggests, from the post-Great War era. Interesting photo, thank you.

Alan Burnett said...

.interesting more direction wrong the in move that things find always I

Unknown said...

That was quite interesting. Time as we understand today is mainly due to Railway Timetabling requirements. One or two Town clocks still tell the actual solar time.

Bruno Laliberté said...

Good thing I'm blessed with an internal clock as I usually know pretty much what time it is, for some reason. This anecdote was certainly interesting. I hope this building is in fairly good shape still as it looked great on that postcard.

John said...

I shared some 2012 photos of both the synagogue and town hall on this earlier post

Bruno Laliberté said...

Thanx 4 the link!!
I find it comforting to see some things surviving through times, wars, degradation and urbanization.
1270? Wow!! Remarkable.
I hope you get to solve the enigma behind this clock.

On a sidenote, it is prudent not to tell your whereabouts, where you've been is fine, not where you'll be.
Smart decision on your part.

Tattered and Lost said...

This was quite fascinating. I had no idea time varied so much. I do know I love to watch my atomic clock go nuts when daylight savings time happens. I've only managed to catch it running a fast forward a few times, but it's a sight to see.