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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) an influential person, who leaves their mark on the current year or era

A year-spinner is someone who influences the current time or age.

That’s a word traced back to the early 1600s by the Oxford English Dictionary, when it was first used in an English translation of a work by the French poet and author Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas.

Bartas used a French expression, aux filières des ans, in a grand retelling of the Book of Genesis, Semaines, published in France in the 1580s.

That phrase—which literally means something like “the yarn-makers of the year”—was realised more succinctly into English as “the year spinners” by Bartas’ English translator, Joshua Sylvester. His account remains the word’s sole attestation in the OED, and indeed it seems to have remained on the outskirts of the language since the 1600s.

As for the expression itself, that appears to allude to the Moirai or Fates of Greek mythology, who were often portrayed as ‘spinning’ the threads of human destiny, and controlling their actions from birth to death by pulling the threads of fate.

One of the three Fates, in fact, was named Clotho, whose name literally means ‘spinner’ in Greek. She placed the thread of a person’s life on a spindle; her fellow Fate, Lachesis (literally the ‘allotter’), then measured the thread of life allotted to each person; and Atropos (“the inevitable”) cut a person’s thread of life by choosing the time and manner of their death. Being a year-spinner clearly carries great responsibility.


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