February 06, 2006

The Next Controversy

'Twas a seemingly uncomplicated email. I suggested today a happy hour for "next Tuesday or Wednesday". But Ham o' Bone called for clarification, thinking that the adjective 'next', which strictly speaking means that which is closest to, might've referred to Tuesday/Wed Feb. 7/8 instead of the 14th/15th.

The very presence of the adjective "next" implies that we're not talking this Tuesday, since I would've said "How about Tuesday or Wednesday?". Language seeks ease of use first, like water seeking the lowest ground. When language is utilitarian, it's also economical. "Next Tuesday" is a fruitful shortening of the phrase "Tuesday of next week".

I suggested that 98 out of 100 people would know that referring to "next Tuesday" on a Monday means the Tuesday of the following week. Bone suggested it was closer to 50/50. (This brouhaha reminds me of the infamous "'Bobber Beer Test", published for posterity in Lamentations & Exaggerations and available at no bookstore near you.)

So I went to pick up lunch and while I was gone found a funny answering machine message, roughly paraphrased here:
Hey 'bobber, 'bobber here. I talked about our conversation with Elizabeth* (* - his wife, name changed to protect the innocent).

She thought I was an idiot for even suggesting what I suggested. She agrees with you totally. Matter of fact she goes [imitates her voice:] "If you're going to refer to the Tuesday of this week then you'll say "this Tuesday". Everybody knows that when you say "next Tuesday" you mean Tuesday of next week." [End imitation] Oy vey, what has happened to our English language? I agree "this tuesday" does mean [click of someone picking up a phone] this coming Tuesday but--

[Elizabeth breaks in.] "Tom, he's an idiot."

"Hey I'm leaving a message hon."

"What can I say he's an idiot."

"Oy vey...talk to you later."

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