August 15, 2004

Binding time

Hanna Wallach emails an eggcorn:

Just found this one in the LiveJournal of a programming languages researcher:

"Binding my time," instead of "biding my time."

The bide in "biding one's time" is a verb that (according to the American Heritage Dictionary) means (in the transitive form) "To await; wait for". So the standard expression "bide one's time" means "to wait for the (right) time (to do something)".

But outside of this expression, and a few even more frozen fragments like the cutesy name "Bide-a-wee", bide is an obsolete word. As an alternative, bind is a common verb that is phonetically very similar to bide -- the /n/ will generally be realized in fluent speech only as nasalization of the preceding vowel -- and several of its meanings sort of fit. Among the transitive meanings of bind

1. To tie or secure, as with a rope or cord. 2. To fasten or wrap by encircling, as with a belt or ribbon. 3. To bandage: bound up their wounds. 4. To hold or restrain with or as if with bonds. 5. To compel, obligate, or unite: bound by a deep sense of duty; bound by a common interest in sports. 6. Law To place under legal obligation by contract or oath. 7. To make certain or irrevocable: bind the deal with a down payment. 8. To apprentice or indenture: was bound out as a servant. 9. To cause to cohere or stick together in a mass: Bind the dry ingredients with milk and eggs. 10. To enclose and fasten (a book or other printed material) between covers. 11. To furnish with an edge or border for protection, reinforcement, or ornamentation. 12. To constipate. 13. Chemistry To combine with, form a chemical bond with, or be taken up by, as an enzyme with its substrate.

it's plausible to think that when you "bide your time", what you're really doing is "holding or restraining" something. And among the intransitive meanings, you might think that you're "sticking or becoming stuck":

1. To tie up or fasten something. 2. To stick or become stuck: applied a lubricant to keep the moving parts from binding. 3. To be uncomfortably tight or restricting, as clothes. 4. To become compact or solid; cohere. 5. To be compelling or unifying: the ties that bind. 6. Chemistry To combine chemically or form a chemical bond.

As for the "[one's] time" part, it might be construed as an adverbial of temporal extent rather than a direct object, as in Shakespeare's "poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage". Alternatively, you could imagine somehow binding strands of time into a sort of cord, like Clotho spinning out the thread of mortal life.

The "bind one's time" eggcorn is fairly common in some of its variants:

  bide bind biding binding

Thus bind/binding my/your/her/his/our/their time has a total of 1307 whG ("web hits on Google"), or 305 whG/bp ("web hits on Google per billion pages").

This eggcorn might have a special appeal for a programming languages person, since it resonates with terms like "delayed binding".

Somewhat surprisingly, the LION database only finds one poem where something binds time. It's a 1990 work by Robin Becker entitled The White Place, which starts

         Bands of gray and rose bind Time in stone.
                        Easy to lose yourself
                             among enormous white tears
                             of spiraling rock.
		  You walked here, swallows left their tracks
                         in the air.

Right now I'm in the Denver airport, concourse A, binding my time while waiting for a plane to San Jose. Since you're reading this, I guess I've been binding your time too.


Posted by Mark Liberman at August 15, 2004 06:34 PM