What word did they use before "clockwise"?

The OED gives 1888 as the first use of “clockwise,” and yet there were mechanical clocks centuries before that, plus sundials for centuries before that. I could imagine that before the earliest mechanical clocks with a clock face we’re familiar with, they had no use for the concepts of clockwise vs. counterclockwise rotation, but surely by the 1800s (with screws) they did. Ideas?

I assume they just said turn it right or left (or what amounted to that in their language). Remember “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.”

Also note clocks existed for a long time before they were common. As such “clockwise” would not creep into the language until clocks were common enough to come into everyday speech.

Widdershins meant in a direction contrary to the sun’s course, considered as unlucky; counterclockwise. I know of its connections to Fairy mounds. It goes back to at least 1513.

Clockwise was just Sunwise.

The OED gives the synonym deasil, which is first attested in 1771, so that should answer your question for at least the preceding century.

In the days when people used hourglasses ‘clockwise’ meant down.

“Your right” and “No, your* other *right.”

Thesaurus.com gives as a synonym “dextral”. Mollusc shells featuring a clockwise spiral are referred to as dextral. Counter-clockwise is sinistral. I don’t know how old the words are in English but they’re derived from the Latin for right and left.

Does that mean a clockwise spiral going in, or a clockwise spiral going out?

I’ve seen ‘sunwise’ used as the opposite of ‘widdershins’. Obviously this only works in the northern hemisphere.

Edit- sorry, hadn’t registered the bottom part of What Exit’s post.

That’s right; the oldest clock I’ve ever seen is the one at Wells, dating back to 1386 - long before Columbus sailed. The face shows a sun, rotating ‘sunwise’ in a dial- this is probably where the idea of clockwise came from.

Outwards and downwards, apparently. Which makes some sense, as this is how the snail shell actually grows.

“Right” and “left” are useless unless you know which part of the circle you’re referring to.

(Clockwise and anti-clockwise can be confusing enough, as I can attest while trying to work out which way to unscrew a left-hand pedal (reverse threaded) pedal from a bike while facing the wrong side of the crank…)

A thread from a year and a half ago.

The numeral “6” is a short dextral spiral. It’s easy to remember that both “six” and “dextral” contain an “x”.

That only works if you know which way the “point” is, either out of the plane or into the plane.

From my physics background, the common convention is the point is out of the page, which makes a “6” a left-handed spiral. Obviously, that’s not the convention you’re using.

The first Isaac Asimov essay I read (PDF!) was in a sixth grade English book, discussing this very topic. Well, not quite, he was worried about the language going forward, as digital clocks took over. He suggested “right hand twist” and “left hand twist” as non-ideal replacements for counterclockwise and clockwise.

We could also go with the mathematical choice of “positive rotation” and “negative rotation” for counterclockwise and clockwise respectively. When did this choice of rotational directions become commonplace in the mathematical community?

Anyway, I suggest “iwise” and “minus iwise” so kids can stop asking where imaginary numbers show up in the “real world”. :slight_smile:

Would that be a left hand or right hand thread?

Right-handed thumb’s up: The circular motion has a point extending out of the fingertips, and the vector* normal to the plane the circle is in points out of the thumb. Hence the name right-hand rule.

*(You also have to remember that the “vector” in this case is an axial vector, not an actual vector, and so doesn’t behave normally when flipped in a mirror: The mirror turns a right hand into a left hand, so the axial vector becomes a thumb’s down. Yet another reason to disdain the cross product and use the wedge product instead.)

You’d still have to give them some reason to accept the “positive” square root of -1 as the legit i – and to place it on the upwards pointing half axis!

My background is in physics, too, but I think this is just a matter of definition. We need somebody with a background in Latin, I guess. See here for example: