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I have a question about the phrase "to this day": (from Frederick the Great by Giles MacDonogh)

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They started appearing even before his death on 17 August 1786, and they still crop up to this day.

Should "to this day" be read in the sense of "to a point in time" ("he worked from 1 pm to midnight") or "at a point in time" ("at this moment")?

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"To this day" is an unusual phrasing, only used to talk about something that has been going on a long time and is still that way. It would not be used for short time periods or indicating the turn-over of a calendar day in the minute past midnight. You should generally think of not using it for anything much less than a year; and usually much longer spans of time.

For instance, a difficult problem known to the ancient Greeks might turn out to be "still unsolved, to this day." And to put stronger and more mysterious emphasis on how odd it is that no one has figured it out, you might phrase it as "still unsolved, even to this very day".

Going for something less dramatic, the casual "until today" doesn't specify a clock time. If I said "I didn't know that until today", I am not suggesting I got an email about it at midnight. I am saying "I didn't know this fact prior to the current calendar day, and only found out at a clock time prior to us speaking now."

(Note: We sometimes consider a very late hour like 1:00 AM to be the previous day's "night". Hence I might say "I saw them yesterday night" on Monday, even if I had actually seen them earlier on that same Monday at 1:00 AM.)

To get more specific about "day" you have to modify it. There are phrases like "You will receive it by the next business day" which means that if someone says that on a Friday, you will not get it until Monday (assuming Monday is not a work holiday). "The next day, she opened the letter" or similar phrases are ambiguous about time.

You will have to be specific if a specific time is meant. For instance: "As the clock struck midnight, the phantom appeared."

That is all very far from the understanding when people would use "to this day". Once again, it is only a rare phrasing used to indicate a long time frame extending all the way up to the present...usually for dramatic and/or mysterious effect.

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    Could it be that "they still crop up to this day" = "they still crop up even now"? – meatie Sep 5 '14 at 15:50
  • They are close, but I try to point out the nuance in usage. And "to this day" really is reserved for long periods of time, while "even now" you could interchangeably use for events in a short period. "I gave an answer. I edited my answer to be clearer. Yet even now, after I've additionally clarified with a comment, @meatie doesn't get the nuance!" Just kidding. :-) But if that were the situation, that would be a case where one would not use "to this day" as equivalent. – HostileFork says dont trust SE Sep 5 '14 at 16:17
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    I agree with a lot of what you wrote, but I feel I should point out that to this day is not actually an unusual phrase. – snailplane Sep 5 '14 at 18:42
  • @snailplane It's an unusual phrasing. I don't mean to say it's a statistically improbable phrase, just that it's not a terribly regular language construct that follows rules that are easy to understand without some native speaker hammering it out for you. – HostileFork says dont trust SE Sep 5 '14 at 22:46
  • @snailplane If you prefer, read as "curious phrasing"; if it was rarely used, I'd have said "rarely used" or "archaic" or something like that. Although: even if it is common in textual corpus I would say that it is uncommon in daily speech...more likely to appear in movies or television trying to be dramatic. – HostileFork says dont trust SE Sep 5 '14 at 23:33
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this day refers to today (actually it would be the day this was written).
The meaning would be like:

... and they still crop up at times between then and now.

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    Could it be that "they still crop up to this day" = "they still crop up even now"? – meatie Sep 5 '14 at 15:50
  • @meatie Sounds OK to me. – user3169 Sep 5 '14 at 17:22

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