The clock is ticking

The clock is ticking is an idiom with an uncertain origin. An idiom is a word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases and popular expressions that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the idiom the clock is ticking, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

The clock is ticking is an idiom that means one is running out of time, that not much time is left to accomplish something, that a deadline is approaching. The phrase the clock is ticking is often used as a warning for someone to hurry up. The exact origin of the idiom the clock is ticking is unknown. The word tick to mean the sound a clock makes first came into use in the 1500s. The idiom the clock is ticking came into use sometime in the second half of the twentieth century. Interestingly, the phrase is as popular as ever, even though today, very few watches are analog watches that must be wound and make a ticking sound.


Organizers have said the convention’s official business will remain in Charlotte, but, since the president has demanded a packed arena with no social distancing and masks for his speech, the clock is ticking on the effort to find an alternative site. (The Charlotte Business Journal)

“The clock is ticking to get this done,” said one agent, “if they want to get games on the field by the beginning of July, this has to get done in the next week or so.” (The New York Daily News)

Deal or no deal: The clock is ticking for public employee unions to make a deal with Newsom on the 10 percent pay cut wants. (The Sacramento Bee)

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