Saturday, August 30, 2008

This, at last

I have a language question for you.

There’s a particular usage I hear very commonly in the media, and I’m sure that it’s wrong. Or maybe it’s just my personal usage that’s up the spout.

Here’s an example, from a report in the Telegraph:

Exactly a year ago, the "feel-good factor"… stood at a relatively modest minus 15 per cent. It now stands at minus 62 per cent and has stood stubbornly at minus 60 per cent or worse since last April.

So, does ‘last April’ mean: (a) April 2007 (April of last year); or (b) April 2008 (the last April we had)?

Obviously, the writer here intends (b). But I’m completely, utterly set on (a). April 2008 was this April. But on my understanding, the quote above would be meaningless.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

In this case it's lazy journalism - "April" would've done just fine without the need for "last".

In general I would reserve "this" as an abbreviation for "this coming" and use last as a comparative, for emphasis. So in March I might say "last April" to make it clear I wasn't talking about the April coming.

I'm not sure what the exact rule is but given the confusion that can be caused by these types of language, clarity is paramount so that however people use the terms themselves, they understand what you're trying to say.

Anonymous said...

When I first came to London as a student from Yorkshire, this caused me difficulties when arranging meetings/dates.
I soon discovered that, in my dialect, there was an implied week/month/year. Thus, to me, 'last Thursday' [I'm writing this on a Saturday in August] is a short form of 'Thursday last week' (as Thursday is a day of the week) and 'last April' means 'April last year' (as April is a month of the year).

But other people used the words more literally: to them 'last Thursday' was the last Thursday there had ever been. Consequently, they never seemed to use expressions such as 'this Thursday' to mean the Thursday of this week - whether it was in the past or the future.

So I learned always to be more specific myself and to query what other people meant when talking about the last or next day/week/month.

Chris said...

Seinfeld Series 3 Episode: The Alternate Side

Sid: Well I'm going down to visit my sister in Virginia next Wednesday, for a
week, so I can't park it.

Jerry: This Wednesday?

Sid: No, next Wednesday, week after this Wednesday.

Jerry: But the Wednesday two days from now is the next Wednesday.

Sid: If I meant this Wednesday, I would have said this Wednesday. It's the week after this Wednesday.

I don't think there is an absolute rule - if people want clarity then they just have to avoid next/last altogether.

Tom Freeman said...

Heh. Usually I rely on The Simpsons for the answers to all of life's major dilemmas, but clearly Seinfeld is a great soruce of wisdom too.