the phrase ‘two hairs past a freckle’ and variants

TWO HAIRS, OR ONE HAIR, PAST A FRECKLE

 

The phrase two hairs past a freckle, also one hair, or a hair, past a freckle, is used as a jocular reply by a person who does not have a watch, when asked what the time is; while replying, they will look at the back of their wrist as if they were wearing a watch.

For example, the columnist Teddy Allen recollected the following in The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana, USA) of 15th November 1997:

When I was little and asked my dad what time it was, if he didn’t have his watch on he’d look at his wrist and say, “It’s two hairs past a freckle.”

The earliest occurrence of two hairs past a freckle that I have found is from the letter that a soldier named Dusty (whose chest had “swelled out about six inches” because he had just been promoted to flight sergeant) wrote to his mother on 30th August 1943—letter published in The Canyon News (Canyon, Texas, USA) of 2nd September 1943:

Well, Mom, I guess that is about time for me to stop writing. I just asked Bill Lasher the time and of all the answers to get was “I have just exactly two hairs past a freckle.”
Till the next time, Mom, I’ll just say,           Love to all,
Dusty.

Phillip Adams used the phrase at the end of an article in which he claimed that the ultimate cause of the recent aircraft crashes were the elaborate Swiss-made wristwatches worn by the pilots—article published in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia) of 26th April 1975:

For my own part, I’m back to the nude wrist. As we used to say at State school when asked the time, it’s two hairs past a freckle.

The author of an article about schoolchildren, published in The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Florida, USA) of 5th June 1975, said of one hair past a freckle that it was “a 1955 snappy comeback”.

The phrase is sometimes extended to eastern elbow time—as in the following from the account by Pamela Kramer of the O. J. Simpson* trial, published in The Pantagraph (Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, USA) of 25th September 1995:

The defense might have had reservations about using Lopez, given her sketchy timelines — caricatured in a printed “spoof” of the trial as “2 hairs past a freckle eastern elbow time.”

(* The U.S. football player, actor and celebrity Orenthal James Simpson (born 1947) was arrested in 1994, accused of murdering his wife and her male companion. Rosa Lopez was O. J. Simpson’s maid.)

 

A DIFFERENT ACCEPTATION OF TWO HAIRS PAST A FRECKLE

 

Jonathan Storm used the phrase two hairs past a freckle in a different sense in his review of the pilot episode for the U.S. television crime series Justified, with the U.S. actor Timothy Olyphant (born 1968) as Raylan Givens—review published in The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) of 16th March 2010:

Givens works out of the Lexington, Ky., branch of the U.S. Marshals Service. His boss is a plainspoken guy, and his associates include a no-nonsense African American woman and a sniper who can hit a spot two hairs past a freckle from 300 yards.

 

THE VARIANT HALF PAST A FRECKLE

 

The variant half past a freckle occurs for example in A Day in the Life Of a Lemming, published in the Courier-Post (Camden, New Jersey, USA) of 10th June 1972—Adele Ross described the people in a nightclub called the Fairview:

“Pardon me, miss,” a deep voice interrupts. Cindy jumps, and turns to find the tallest person she had ever seen. […]
[…]
“Do you have the time?” he asks.
“Yeah, half past a freckle,” she cracks, peering at her bare wrist.

Explaining in The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts, USA) of 7th December 1986 why he did not wear a watch, the U.S. columnist, journalist and author Leigh Montville (born 1943) used an extended form of that variant:

“Do you want to know what time it is?” I ask, rolling back my sleeve. “No problem. I have half past a freckle, quarter to a hair.”

In The Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) of 15th January 1996, Gary Dean quoted the following from Duck Under the Table! More Scenes from Family Life (Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1991), a collection of sayings from Australian family life, by the Australian folklorist Gwenda Beed Davey (born 1932):

“What’s the time?” “Time you got a watch.”
“What’s the time?” “Half past a freckle with a mole catching up.”

The U.S. lexicographer Erin McKean (born 1971) mentioned the following phrases in her column The Word, published in The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts, USA) of 27th December 2009:

Anyone who has a kid, or remembers being one, knows some snappy (and unreal) answers to “What time is it?” There are those meant to highlight the fact that you don’t have a watch, such as skin-thirty and half past a freckle (and quarter till an elbow). Then there are the ones that say “it doesn’t matter what time it is,” like half past kissing time and time to kiss again! or the one that drives my child insane—time for all the monkeys’ tails to fall off; isn’t yours loose?

 

ACCORDING TO THE HAIRS ON MY WRIST

 

A similar phrase is according to the hairs on my wrist. The Irish comedian and writer Spike Milligan (Terence Alan Milligan – 1918–2002) elaborated on it in the script of The Hastings Flyer – Robbed, an episode, broadcast on 27th December 1955, of The Goon Show, a BBC radio comedy series that ran from May 1951 to January 1960—source: The Goon Show Site:

– Seagoon: Right – run my bath.
– Moriarty: Don’t be a fool, Neddie – this is no time to take a bath, it’s getting late.
– Seagoon: Nonsense – there’s plenty of time – according to the hairs on my wrist it’s only half past ten.
– Grytpype: (disbelief) The hairs on your wrist say half past ten?
– Seagoon: Yes.
– Grytpype: You must be mad.
– Seagoon: Why?
– Grytpype: The hairs on my wrist say eleven-thirty.
– Moriarty: I can vouchsafe for that, he set them right by the hairs on Big Ben this morning!
– Seagoon: Bully for Ben. Still time for a bath […]!

cf. also:
‘beer o’clock’: 5 p.m. as the end of the working day
meaning and origin of the phrase ‘like one o’clock’

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