point in time
by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©1996 Resource Books All rights reserved.

point in time n. phrase 

  1. A technical expression for defining a time-based coordinate, distinguished from "point in space" or (presumably) any specific value for a given variable. 
  2. The phrase is over-used as for example during the Watergate hearings, in place of "point," "time," or "moment." 
One of the gifts of Rene Descartes, 17th Century French philosopher and mathematician, is a graphical system by which numerical relationships are exhibited and studied.  Each piece of data occupies a "point in space," located by its "Cartesian coordinates."  Often, one of the dimensions is time, and the expression "point in time" was once abundantly useful in describing an event's location along the time axis.

In the Senate Caucus Room during the Summer of 1973, a certain James McCord commenced his revelations.  "At about this point in time,..." he droned.

Too bad about Watergate.  A shabby chapter in U.S. history, brought about by zealots tampering with the Electoral Process, the closest thing we have to a "national religion."  I don't recall ever hearing what those guys found in the files at the Democratic National Headquarters.  My guess: a handful of unpaid bills and ungiven speeches.

The Watergate hearings had a pronounced effect on the English Language:  "Stonewalling."  "Dirty tricks."  Someone -- I forget who -- was left "twisting slowly, slowly in the wind."   Remember "the limited hang-out plan"--  Worst of all: "Operation Candor."  [Expletive Deleted]

Could have been a whole lot worse, I suppose.  The word "candor" might have become fully pejorated by Watergate -- much like "point in time."
Pedants clamored to quash the expression as redundant -- worse, as gobbledegook.  "What's wrong with just plain 'at about this point'?" they bleated.  As used by McCord, the answer would have been "nothing."  No one offered a Cartesian defense; accordingly, "point in time" was vanquished, a linguistic casualty of the Plumbers (fixers of leaks, get it?) and CREEP (Committee for the Re-Election of the President).

Perhaps in a few more decades, the Watergate stigma will be lifted, but meanwhile, I'll bow to the pedants and not use "point in time."

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