When should one wish only “Good Morning!”?

January 12, 2010

My series of short posts on mathematically fun dates presents an appropriate timing for another calendrical quandry that I have been mulling over several years.

In the classic MGM musical film “Singing in the Rain”, the main characters are sitting around in a raining night, when they have a flash of inspiration on how to turn their film fiasco upside-down. One looks at the tear-off calendar, proclaiming that that would be the day to be remembered – and another promptly notes that it was past midnight, and was actually the next day. Yet is this always the morning?

Being still young enough (and in school enough) that I am not infrequently awake past midnight, as I am at this very moment writing, I often send opening instant messages to people beyond the witching hour. And thus One reckoning: 12:00 PM

Historically, and to this day notably found in the Jewish calendar, each day begins at sundown, continuing on until the next sundown. While this presents some awkwardness in comparison an absolute-time calendar, as that value shift every day (not conducive to mechanical timepieces) – it is nevertheless quite effective and very grounded in the actual natural conditions of the day.

This is very much based in the traditions of a working day, in which one was awake during sunlight, and not too much on either side. In part due to the joys of electric lighting and late-night television, the cycle isn’t exactly the same anymore, but the reckoning of the hours remains the same. This is despite that the hour of sunrise and sunset changes daily, in such a way that true “midday” changes as well. Add to this pot of confusion “dailight savings time” (which in fact lasts a far longer portion of the year than “standard” time) . By any reckoning, Midnight is not the middle of the modern sleeping night, though it may at times be toward the middle of the astronomical night. As evidence In high school, I woke up at a not-too-lazy 5:45 AM. Yet for 12:00 PM to be the middle of the night, that would correspond with retiring at 6:15 PM – which might only have happened when ill.

It is my personal opinion, and what I invariably stick by, is that the holdfast dividing line between “evening/night” and “morning” falls around 4:00 AM-4:30. Perhaps one could do a scientific study and get some sort of curve of average bedtimes and wake-up times. Yet 4:00 seems to be about the time by which anyone who is going to get up in the morning has not yet gotten up, and anyone going to bed has not yet doneso (with an “outlier” population I suspect to be less than 4%). I feel awkward when I am up past that point, as it would mean sleeping past noon.

On a further and perhaps equally important note, frequently I will cheerfully “good morning!” upon arrival in the morning, and nearly invariably within the course of a month, someone will tiredly say “what’s good about it?” While – the phrase “good morning” is not an assessment of conditions, rather, it is a biding of “a good morning to you” – a wish of goodly intentions, regardless of how likely it is to come true. To counter otherwise would thus be a sign of sincere grumbling or of rude manners.

Thus, to anyone reading this, I wish a good evening, good morning, and goodnight!

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