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now

When, exactly, is "now"?  The simple answer is that it's that duration-less instant which separates the past from the future. But, if that's the case, why do we sometimes speak as if it is in the past and sometimes as if it is in the future?  Never noticed this?  Let us compare, for example, these two responses to the question "Have you done it yet?":

"Yes, I did it just now."

or

"No, I'll do it right now."

In the first instance, (just) now means "the recent past" whereas in the second it means "the near future" or "soon".  That's pretty impressive for a fleeting instant which supposedly has no duration.

Now is a word which has remained almost unchanged since the days of prehistoric Indo-European.  In Old English, as in Greek and Sanskrit, the word was was nu but Latin, so often the odd-man-out, had nunc.  This latter gave us quidnunc , an obscure but utterly splendid word for a "news-monger" or "gossip".  It implies someone who constantly asks "What's new?" (from Latin quid "what" + nunc "now").

At one time soon used to mean "now" or "immediately".  At least, that is what its Old English ancestor sona meant.  By Middle English, its meaning had shifted to "some time in the near future", no doubt due to innumerable Anglo-Saxons saying "I'll do it sona".

Another way of saying now is "the present moment".  Present now means "that which is here" but it comes from Latin prae- "before" and esse "to be" so, literally, it means "before being".  If you're not confused yet then you can't be paying attention.  But hang on, it gets worse...

Moment comes from the Latin momentum, "movement", "moving force" or "importance", the same origin as momentous.  This is particularly odd as the word moment is defined as "a portion of time too brief for its duration to be taken into account"... hardly momentous, we'd have thought.  Then there's momentarily... does this word mean "for a moment" (as in "I was momentarily distracted") or "at some in the near future" (as in "I'll do it momentarily")? Depends!

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