Monday, November 29, 2010

SemiBiAnnually

So there I was at Milltown in Carrboro, happily sipping a cold draft De Koninck, making the emphatic point that biannual means every other year. The gadget people in attendance were able to pull up online definitions showing the primary definition to be "twice yearly" and a secondary definition of "biennial," or "occurring every two years." And I was thinking that my Merriam Webster would know better. It did not. I find this unacceptable.

Our bicentennial celebration has occurred only once, correctly, in 1976--not twice centennially since 1776. If the incorrect definition had been applied here, we would by now have four bicentennial celebrations under our American belts. We do not.

Merriam Webster's primary definition of bimonthly is "occurring every two months." There's further confusion. The adjective biweekly is primarily defined as "occurring twice a week," but the noun biweekly is "a publication issued every two weeks."

Merriam Webster adds this little blurb, about bi- generally: "This ambiguity has been in existence for nearly a century and a half and cannot be eliminated by the dictionary. The chief difficulty is that many users of these words assume that others know exactly what they mean, and they do not bother to make their context clear."

Reminds me of the this/next confusion. "I'll see you next Sunday." "Wait, do you mean this Sunday or next Sunday?" "I mean the next Sunday that will be upon us." "Wait, so, this Sunday?" "I don't know anymore." And so on.

7 comments:

Spelling G. said...

The reason why is that is is because I have a lot to say about that. It is different next to it.

Alexandra Badea said...

I say let us go back to the good romans and their latin!

Alex said...

how about bilingual - is this somebody who speaks every other langguage? :)

Bob said...

Yes! A great idea. I like it. (Both ideas--about the Latin and especially the bilingual bit.)

Gregg said...

Bisexuals would quickly run out of options.

Gregg said...

I usually have to think about "bi". For times, it seems "semi" should mean the multiplicative inverse of "bi". Having semiweekly mean every two weeks strikes me as weird. Having semiweekly and biweekly be synonyms doesn't seem any better.

Bob said...

Oh no you di'int.