I was thinking about this the other day when I heard on the radio that something ran “like clockwork.” This expression is so clichéd that its fatigue is actually contagious. It puts our brains to sleep. How else can you explain the fact that people continue to use the expression long after a day when people might have had much firsthand experience with the stuff actually called “clockwork”?
According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, clockwork is defined as:
1. the mechanism of a clock; 2. any similar mechanism, consisting of springs and
geared wheels, as in some mechanical toys
Really, how close a relationship do we have with this word? How often do we get a chance to use it outside the above-referenced cliché? “I overslept because the Sanyo on my nightstand isn’t working. So I’m going to open it up and look at the clockwork.” Add to that the proliferation of digital clocks and suddenly the word “clockwork” is about as meaningful to most Americans as references to the choke levers on cars.
An analogy is supposed to shed light on one thing by comparing it to a second, familiar thing. Yet when I say that planes run like clockwork, I’m actually trying to shed light on something you know well by comparing it something you don’t really know at all.
That’s just weird.
Weirder yet, that’s the kind of stuff that occupies my mind for more hours than I care to admit.