Turning Back the Clock

"You can't turn back the clock."

We have all heard that. What does it mean?

Here are four meanings.

1. Literal meaning

If we take it literally, it is obviously false. This week we went off daylight savings time. We turned back our clocks: spring forward, fall back.

2. Reversing a decision

The slogan is usually used when there is a proposal to undo a major decision. The most obvious counter example is the twenty first amendment, adopted in 1933. It repealed the eighteenth amendment, adopted in 1919, which established Prohibition. That turned back the clock fourteen years.

3. Undo effects

Another meaning is that we can't go back to the way things were. This is a variation on the saying "You can't go home again." If you return to your home town after being away for years, you will find it changed. This applies to Prohibition. During Prohibition, national criminal syndicates were formed. After repeal, they remained in existence.

4. Reject history (technology)

Another variation goes: "Do you want to go back to before we had TVs, cars, etc.?" Here we can use the twenty first amendment again. When the country voted for repeal, they weren't rejecting the 1920s. They didn't want to lose the technology: radio broadcasts, penicillin>, or even cheeseburgers. Technology doesn't depend on policy.

Posted 2021/November/11