Friday, July 18, 2008

The scope of "next"

When I say "next Tuesday" I mean the Tuesday of next week. So if today's Monday, I don't mean tomorrow. Similarly, if I say "next Saturday", I mean the Saturday of next week. On Monday, I don't mean the day five days from now, I mean the day twelve days from now. I've found that this is not true of everyone, and that there's quite a split in how people perceive this usage. It seems the two main interpretations are "the next X that occurs" and "the X of next week". So to some people, saying "next Saturday" means "the next Saturday that occurs" which may often be the Saturday of this week. On the other hand, to people like me, "next Saturday" always means the Saturday of next week; using the word "next" cannot refer to any day this week. Needless to say, this causes problems.

The OED gives us, under the entry for "next":

Applied (without preceding the) to days of the week, with either the current day or (in later use; orig. Sc.) the current week as the implicit point of reference.
Thus (for example) next Friday may mean ‘the soonest Friday after today’ or ‘the Friday of the coming week’. The latter may be indicated contextually, e.g. by contrast with this, but it is not always clear which meaning is intended.


So the key question here is what kind of scope "next" has (here I don't really mean semantic scope so much as temporal scope). For some people, the frame of reference is the day, for some the week. It seems the key distinction is that last sentence from the OED quote: people who distinguish "this Friday", "next Friday" are going to use the week as the frame of reference, whereas for someone who doesn't use "this X" for days of the week isn't going to have any kind of week association with the word "next"; it will mean what it means in ordinary speech, i.e., the next X that occurs, without any intervening time.

9 comments:

q-pheevr said...

I think that for me, the frame of reference is more than a day, but less than a week: on a Monday, "next Tuesday" definitely means "Tuesday of next week," not "tomorrow"; but "next Saturday" could well be the Saturday that's just five days away. ("This Saturday" would either be two days ago or five days in the future, depending on the tense of the clause in which it appears.) If I want to talk about the Saturday that's twelve days in the future, I'll probably say something like "next Saturday—not this coming Saturday, but the next one."

linguistlessons said...

Actually, my wife and I were just discussing that very fact last night. I think it's due to the fact that many people use the day as the frame of reference (after all, historically that's what "next" would mean), but within reason, because it would just be weird to say "next Tuesday" if the day your referring to is tomorrow. It may be this aversion that began the use of the week as the frame of reference.

Alex said...

Unfortunately, the scope of the word "Next" now includes "yet another crappy Nic Cage action movie." It joins a veritable lexicon of unfortunates, including "Air," "Ghost," "Millimeter," "Sixty," "Angels," "Eyes," "Wicker," "Mandolin," "Wind," and, very soon, "Bangkok."

His assault on the dictionary, human decency, and the taste of buttered popcorn continues.

Lee said...

i'm definitely a "this saturday" is the coming saturday and "next saturday" is the saturday after that kind of person.

Claire said...

I have this problem all the time in Switzerland when speaking with non-native English speakers. I will say "this weekend..." or "next weekend..." as you describe, and the listener will stop me and ask for clarification. I guess if we haven't resolved the debate ourselves, it's reasonable for them to be confused.

Glen Whitman said...

For me, the problem with the week as a point of reference is that the borderline between weeks is arbitrary. Some say a week starts Sunday, others say Monday. Generally, I think of a week as any 7-day period, not one that starts on a specific day.

So I usually go with linguistlesson's approach: "next Tuesday" means the soonest Tuesday that will occur, unless that Tuesday is so soon that it would be more natural to say "tomorrow," "the day after tomorrow," or just "Tuesday" unmodified.

Ran said...

So, what to make of "this next Tuesday"?

Dave said...

Today was the first time in my 33 years of life that I have encountered anyone who thought "this" referenced a day in the past. I had to search the Intertubes about the idea just to try and bring order to the confusion it left me with. It appears as though for some, "this" means "this week". I have always understood it was "this coming". Because "this" means "this coming" to me, "next" becomes redundant to mean "this next coming". I have always interperated "next" as "the next one after this one". Any day within the five days prior to yesterday are always "last" to me, never "this". I think everyone would agree using "this" or "last" to refer to yesterday or "this" or "next" to refer to tomorrow is strange. While my understanding may not be the same as others, there doesn't seem to be any authority saying what is right or wrong. My version or right does not require a verb to be used in context, nor an agreed upon start-of-week to be clear.

Ryan said...

"This Tuesday", "Not this Tuesday, but next".