You’ve probably heard a disembodied voice sing the words ‘seconds away’ on a number of occasions: like when you’ve been watching the boxing on the television or perhaps live at the venue. I have, and I’ve never spent much time wondering what they meant.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve spent any time at all pondering their meaning: for the very simple reason that I’ve always assumed they were a reference to the last few seconds on the clock before the bell sounds, Round One begins and the two pugilists are free to punch each other’s heads in.
That’s what I would have assumed you thought, too. But no! Seconds, in the context of boxing, does not refer to a small unit of time before the fighting starts. Something quite different.
It turns out that it refers to the bloke massaging the boxer on the arms, back and perhaps the legs before the fighting starts. We more commonly refer to this chap as the trainer, or the corner man, but he is also the ‘second’. Rather like the duelist’s second.
For this piece of trivia we have P.G. Wodehouse to thank. Well, I do – you may have known all along. And, quite frankly, I’m beginning to wonder if his canon might not be on a par, in so far as understanding English and English custom is concerned, with the biblical canon comprising the King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer.