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epoch and era Does epoch and era have the same meaning? "It was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity"
Aug 14, 2014 11:52 PM
Answers · 7
Outside the field of Geology, yes, they have the same meaning.
August 14, 2014
Your quotation comes from Charles Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities". Age - a distinct period of history; Era - a long and distinct period of history; Epoch - a particular period of time in history or a person’s life. They are similar but there are certain set terms which cannot be changed, such as: the Stone Age, the Medieval Age, the Age of Enlightenment, the Jazz Age. We usually say the Victorian age or the Victorian era, but not the Victorian epoch. Epoch tends to be shorter or on a lesser scale, I think: "that epoch in his life". Charles Dickens was using the nouns in pairs, and he wanted to do "elegant variation" by rhythmically switching to a new noun after every pair: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…" So the requirements of art prevailed over precision of meaning. We remember, however, that we are not Dickens, and so we need to be more precise when we write.
August 15, 2014
Now, when we write, we tend to think if these associations: age - we think of the spirit of an age; era - we think of a style of living or doing things; Example: The death of the Queen Mother marked the end of an era. epoch - we tend to think of it as "during that time". Example: After the Russian Revolution, the royal jewels were dispersed as the tsar's relatives became refugees. In was at this epoch that Queen Mary acquired her most fabulous jewellery.
August 15, 2014
They are synonyms, but in English we also have collocations that are groups of words that go together because they sound nice. So, all of the examples you gave would be "age of..." even though grammatically it would be correct to also use epoch or era.
August 15, 2014
They mean the same thing, but they vary in use. Both words are uncommon, but epoch is far rarer.
August 15, 2014
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