or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, February 25, 2010


What's this over in the comments section of the
A.V. Club review of a cult-favourite DVD movie
? Why, it's an unspeakably tedious grammarwank!

If biweekly means twice a week, then we should be celebrating the bicentennial two hundred times each year. "Biweekly" happens every two weeks. "Semiweekly" happens every half week. You see how the prefix works?

No, but do you know how the English language works? Words shift and flow, their meanings overlapping and diverging. The prefix "bi-" means "two", and some people have interpreted "bimonthly" to mean "two times in a month", and others to mean "once within a two-month span". Both of these meanings are perfectly logical and are not really open to argument, any more than is the formatting of a date or the meaning of "healthy" versus "healthful". The Oxford English Dictionary has examples of both instances of the usage occurring within a twelve-year span, from the mid-nineteenth century, so if this is a problem, it's been one for a hundred and sixty years or so, long enough for people to figure out that it's part of the language.

What any sensible person does is to simply avoid using those constructions altogether, unless it's in a restricted environment in which the meaning is set and inviolable. The Free Dictionary notes that "each noun form has only one sense in the publishing world. Thus, a bimonthly is published every two months, and a biweekly every two weeks." Otherwise, it would obviously be a smart move to use some other more precise construction, which luckily in English is not hard. "Every fourteen days." "Twice a week." "The second and fourth Fridays of every month."


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