Language for dates
July 15, 2014 7:46 AM   Subscribe

Help settle this bet/communication issue. Pretend it's this past Monday, July 14th. You and several friends get an email about another friend's upcoming birthday party. The note says the party is next Saturday. Do you think the party is Saturday the 19th or Saturday the 26th?
posted by Brandon Blatcher to Writing & Language (44 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would say 26th of July, since the 19th would be this upcoming Saturday.
posted by wallawallasweet at 7:49 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Saturday the 19th = this Saturday
Saturday the 26th = (the) next Saturday
posted by raztaj at 7:50 AM on July 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

posted by JackBurden at 7:50 AM on July 15, 2014

(Previously.) I would think the 26th, but I would check as this is an ambiguous phrasing.
posted by richb at 7:51 AM on July 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

26th, same reasoning raztaj used
posted by brilliantine at 7:51 AM on July 15, 2014

I think that I don't know when the party is, and I would have to ask for clarification.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:51 AM on July 15, 2014 [36 favorites]

Best answer: Both are valid (though I think 26th is more likely).

"Oxt" is a great word.
posted by katrielalex at 7:51 AM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

This versus next:

"The issue isn't as definitive as you might think. Ultimately, it comes down to what interpretation of "next" you consider to be correct. For example, the American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed) defines 'next' simply as

Immediately following, as in time, order, or sequence

Following this definition, "next weekend" will always mean the weekend with the start date in closes proximity in time. If the phrase is used during a weekend, of course, you'd be referring to the weekend following the one you are currently experiencing.

However, the issue gets more complicated if you look to other definitions. The Oxford American Dictionary has a specific definition for 'next' when used in the context of time:

(of a day of the week) nearest (or the nearest but one) after the present : not this Wednesday, next Wednesday
Here, we're given the choice: it can either mean the weekend with the closest start date, or the following one (as specified by the parenthetical addition or the nearest but one).

This definition has come about mostly because of usage development. Many words and phrases in the english dictionary have meanings contrary to their technical definitions, and yet are still used commonly and considered valid. Thus, while technically "next" implies immediate sequence, it is used in other ways (which dictionaries like the OAD have accommodated for validity), so it's really a matter of personal preference. For example, it is unlikely that I will even use the phrase "next weekend" during the week, because some people might be confused as to what I am referring to. Instead, I will say "this weekend," unless it is currently the weekend, in which case I will say "next weekend."
posted by kinetic at 7:52 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Depends. There's variation in usage and interpretation; neither one is "correct", although the closeness of the date can nudge people in one direction or another: if it's Friday, most people would say that "next Saturday" means a week from tomorrow, but people start disagreeing the further out you get.

Best practice is to clarify.
posted by damayanti at 7:52 AM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Monday is far enough away from Saturday in the week that I would consider "next Saturday" to be ambiguous. If pressed, I would say the 19th. If the invitation had come on Thursday or Friday, it would be clearer that the 26th was meant.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:53 AM on July 15, 2014 [14 favorites]

In my mind, "next Saturday" is the 19th.

On preview, what Johnny Wallflower said.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:54 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

If I had to guess I would say the 19th, but I would also figure it was ambiguous enough that I should check. Because I am aware that "next (whatever date)" is a usage with built-in confusion.
posted by Stacey at 7:54 AM on July 15, 2014

26th. The 19th would be this Saturday. It's ambiguous, though.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:57 AM on July 15, 2014

The 19th is "this Saturday". The 26th is "next Saturday".
posted by methroach at 7:57 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

19th. Next Saturday means the next Saturday to me so the next time it's Saturday./
posted by Carillon at 8:02 AM on July 15, 2014

My immediate assumption would be the 26th, because if I meant the 19th I would say "this Saturday." However, I'd probably double check to get an actual date.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:03 AM on July 15, 2014

Best answer: my understanding is that the "this is the upcoming one; next is the subsequent one" that many people are saying is the generally understood definition.

However, my feeling is that nobody should rely on that understanding, ever. The neat thing about English, and most English speaking countries, is that lots of other languages' usages and vocabularies get sucked into English, and our populations are full of people at every possible point on the continuum of language skill and understanding.

Effective communicators should write out the whole damn date, not just because it's foolish to assume everybody knows "this" vs "next", but because people will read the thing at various dates.

Every opportunity to remove ambiguity should be taken.
posted by colin_l at 8:04 AM on July 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

To me, "this" and "next" are completely ambiguous (and also a source of conflict between me and Mrs. Fimbulvetr) if said individually and without context. If you said "we are doing such-and-such this Saturday and the other thing next Saturday" then the 19th and 26th, respectively. In this case, I would assume the 19th, but either could be intended.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:04 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Saturday the 26th.
posted by kimberussell at 8:06 AM on July 15, 2014

Some other languages (such as Mandarin) “last”, “this”, and “next” has hard-set rules for which period is being referred, but not in English. In English, clarity must come from context or extra information.
posted by thebestsophist at 8:08 AM on July 15, 2014

I agree with the general understanding that "this" means the upcoming and "next" the one after, and more and more so as you get closer to Saturday, but also that it's ambiguous without much more context (though on Friday it's nearly unambiguous). I'd probably bet on the 19th or the 26th depending on how far in advance that friend usually schedules things, and email to confirm.
posted by jeather at 8:08 AM on July 15, 2014

The correct answer is "I don't know".
posted by amtho at 8:10 AM on July 15, 2014

Response by poster: The party is on the 26th.

The argument is that "next" is ambiguous here because it's a singular description. "This" never came up in the email, just the word 'Next'.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:12 AM on July 15, 2014

I find (from my UK perspective) that the use of 'next' to mean 'the one after the one that comes next' tends to be used by older people. I think there was probably a time when this usage was standard enough that there was no need to clarify the meaning. In my lifetime I've seen the 'one after the one that comes next' meaning lose a lot of its currency. We seem to have moved to a point where almost everyone automatically clarifies which Saturday they mean, as in 'Not this Saturday, but next Saturday'.
posted by pipeski at 8:14 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd call the 19th this Saturday, and the 26th a week from Saturday --- 'next' Saturday is too ambivalent, and would make me call for clarification.
posted by easily confused at 8:15 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Next X-day" in my mind has a fuzzy definition. Saturday the 19th is far enough off from Monday the 13th that I would interpret this as Saturday the 19th, though I would ask for clarification. If it were Thursday, July 10th, on the other hand, I'd probably interpret it as Saturday the 26th. Not sure where the boundary lies in my mind. Probably some time on Wednesday.

To avoid confusion, when creating an e-mail like this, I always include the date, to wit:

"this coming Saturday, July 19th"


"on Saturday, July 26th."
posted by tckma at 8:19 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Brandon Blatcher: "This" never came up in the email, just the word 'Next'.

Well, it comes up by omission, in the sense that the word "lay" comes up in the sentence "Lie the coat on the bed."
posted by Rock Steady at 8:20 AM on July 15, 2014

I would have assumed it was the 19th if I were told the party was "next Saturday", because I would have assumed the person literally meant the next Saturday we will encounter.

I try not to make any assumptions about what people mean based on "what I would have said" (i.e. "I would have said 'this Saturday' if I meant the upcoming Saturday") because I long ago realized that many phrasings I would use are actually specific to the local area in the United States where I grew up, and other people aren't familiar with the terms and usage that I think is normal.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:42 AM on July 15, 2014

I would think it was the 26th but I do think it's ambiguous. I can be an annoying Askhole, though, so I'd probably be the first one to email back and clarify.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:42 AM on July 15, 2014

Best answer: The argument is that "next" is ambiguous here because it's a singular description.

To many people, it's ambiguous. To some, it's not. To some, it's news that it's ambiguous but they're okay with that definition. To me it's ambiguous and I've been burned by this enough times that I always ask people "What day are we talking about here?" If I want to go to the party, I will politely ask.

Nthing that effective communicators write out the date.
posted by jessamyn at 8:43 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would assume that they meant two saturdays into the future, but I would clarify if it was something actually important to me.
posted by elizardbits at 9:05 AM on July 15, 2014

I'd take "next" as probably meaning the 19th. "This Saturday" or "this coming Saturday" would unambiguously mean the 19th, and "the Saturday after this coming"* unambiguously means the 26th.

"Next Saturday" is only completely unambiguous is if say it on Saturday, so "next Saturday" would definitely mean the 19th if you said it on the 12th. It's the one after today.

I think people are more likely to say "next [weekday]" if it's a day or two past the last one, and "this [weekday]" if it's a day or two before the up-coming one. So maximum ambiguity occurs on the day exactly in between between the previous weekday and following one – in this case, that's today.

Disclaimer: I'm from and live in the South-Eastern US. This may make a difference in how I interpret "next" and "this".

*"The Saturday after this coming" may not be proper English, but that's how I say it.
posted by nangar at 9:24 AM on July 15, 2014

I think that I don't know when the party is, and I would have to ask for clarification.

This would be my conclusion since I have experienced people saying something like "the party is next Saturday" and meaning an implicit "the" in front of "next." So I'd assume they probably mean the 26th but would not count on it w/o confirmation.
posted by phearlez at 9:51 AM on July 15, 2014

My experience is that what it means is also regional. Using "next Saturday" to mean a Saturday more than a week away (ie not THE next Saturday relative to the current day) is something I met with much greater prevalence in the USA. It regularly tripped me up for a few years. Now I always ask for clarification.
posted by anonymisc at 10:56 AM on July 15, 2014

Best answer: Just chiming in to say that this turn of phrase drives me absolutely bonkers, and I willfully attempt to subvert/cause confusion when it is presented before me. Don't people know what the word NEXT means???
posted by wats at 12:26 PM on July 15, 2014

I think of this in terms of weeks. 'Next Saturday' is not the next instance of a Saturday, it's the Saturday next week. But people's usage of this phrase is inconsistent enough that I'd feel the need to verify.
posted by charlemangy at 6:40 PM on July 15, 2014

Given the strict rules of statutory construction, the "next" Saturday would be the 19th but by custom it could be the "26th"...thus, you have identified the argument about which rules would be used in the last case SCOTUS issued this term....go by strict construction or by custom. And you thought lawyers just made arguments up whole cloth.
posted by OhSusannah at 7:55 PM on July 15, 2014

Next Saturday is the 19th. The 26th is the following Saturday. But nobody ever does it right, so I default to spelling the whole damn thing out.
posted by Space Kitty at 11:20 PM on July 15, 2014

If someone said to you, "the party is on the Saturday after next," you could interpret "next" as the 19th, and the party occurring on the 26th. I suppose you could ALSO interpret "next" as the 26th and the party as the Saturday AFTER that (meaning three saturdays from now) but that seems a little weird to me.
posted by nushustu at 2:35 AM on July 16, 2014

I agree that it's based on how far away the date is. If it's Thursday or Friday, I assume it's the 26th. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are a grey area. If it's Sunday or Monday I would assume (apparently incorrectly) it's the 19th. But afterward I would just ask.
posted by Smallpox at 6:33 AM on July 16, 2014

This has bothered me before and I informally polled a bunch of people in order to figure out what the majority (i.e. right) position was and therefore who to shame for mangling the English language. The situation turned out to be far more complicated than I realized.

People who consider the 26th to be "next Saturday" in your example might, depending on their model, consider either the 28th or Aug 4th to be "next Monday." For some people, on a Monday, "next Tuesday" might be eight days away but then on a Saturday, "next Tuesday" might be only three days away.

Similarly but even worse was "this Saturday." If it's Saturday July 12th and I say "this Friday" what do I mean? About half the people I talked to said that their is no "this Friday" on Saturday. The other half were split between whether I would mean six days from now or one day ago. Worst of all, some of the people who believed that "this Friday" was six days away ALSO believed that "next Friday" was six days away!

Basically, what I learned is that, if you take any two random people, the chance of them having identical models for "next -day" and "this -day" as each other is essentially zero. So don't describe dates that way if you want people to attend your party.
posted by 256 at 6:48 AM on July 16, 2014

Someone just texted me about what they just did "this" weekend. It is Wednesday. They're talking about last weekend. "Actually, I just did that this weekend." Now everything is ruined.
posted by jeffjon at 6:59 AM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Article on Vox today about "oxt" implying that it's something "new."

Wonder if the author is a Metafilter reader and katrielalex brought it to their attention? Probably, considering that the Oxt site is not at all "new" - it launched in 2009. No credit to Ask MeFi, though.

posted by amaire at 6:39 PM on July 16, 2014

I would expect next to refer to the 19th.
If you were referring to the 26th, I'd expect you to say "Saturday week".

Disclaimer: not USian
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:29 PM on July 16, 2014

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