Epoch

Epoch

ˈepək

Noun

  • A period of time in history or a person’s life, typically one marked by notable events or particular characteristics.
  • The beginning of a distinctive period in the history of someone or something.
  • (Geology) A division of time that is a subdivision of a period and is itself subdivided into ages, corresponding to a series in chronostratigraphy.
  • (Astronomy) An arbitrarily fixed date relative to which planetary or stellar measurements are expressed.

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Example Sentences

“A British epoch is defined by the ruling monarch: for example, Elizabethan, Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian.”

“While I’m familiar with many epochs in history, I’ve done the most study on the Industrial Revolution.”

“The current celestial epoch is J2000.0, meaning objects’ coordinates are given as they were in the year 2000.”

Word Origin

Latin, early 17th century

Why this word?

Carl Sagan said, “Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another.” His use of the word “epoch” here is meant to imply vast stretches of time, but there is a nuance in the specific definition of “epoch.” In ancient Greek, “epekhein” meant “stop, take up a position,” and “epokhē” was a fixed point in time. In Latin, “epocha” means a date from which succeeding years are numbered (as in 0 CE). One modern usage for “epoch” is to describe spans of time defined by notable events (such as the Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution). Sagan could have used the word “era” or “period” and it would have meant basically the same thing, but he is known for exploring mysteries of the universe on a grand scale. By using “epoch,” perhaps he was implying that writing is bringing together people from entirely different frames of reference for history — BCE to CE and whatever the future may bring.

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