This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.



Thursday, 10 October 2013

A timely rant.

When Polonius bustles up to Hamlet and says:

'My lord, the queen would speak with you, and presently.'
 
Presently means now, at once. And so when Hamlet immediately starts admiring a camel-shaped cloud we know he's being annoying.
 
Nowadays, of course, presently no longer means at once but indicates some unspecified time in the not-too-distant future, like, say, when we have finished admiring that camel-shaped cloud over there.
 
But, hey, words change their meanings. Sometimes it's a help, and sometimes it causes annoyance.
 
Talking of annoyance, this is from a readersoffers.co.uk leaflet.
 
The frost-free mat works like magic. Simply place one in the bottom of your freezer...and it eliminates icy build-up. No more timely de-frosting.
 
No more what?
 
No more timely de-frosting?
 
But timely means at the right time. And, let's face it, there's never a right time to de-frost the fridge. Not if you have a life, or have ever bought a super-saver pack of frozen fish fingers, anyway.
 
No, no. It's not timely de-frosting at all, it's time-consuming de-frosting.
 
Hang on a minute, though. Now I come to think about it time-consuming is a jolly silly expression. I mean, what do we do that doesn't consume time?
 
Er...

...not de-frosting the fridge?
 
Oh dear. Have I just argued myself into getting a frost-free mat after all?

You must be joking.

Not until the sellers learn to write English I'm not.
 
Word To Use Properly Today: timely. This word used to mean early, but now it means on time - unless you sell frost-free mats, when timely means whatever you want it to mean.
 
The word time comes from the Old English tīma and is related to the Almannic zīme. It's connected to the word tide, too.
 
 

6 comments:

  1. Hee! I love your rants!
    When it comes to defrosting in this house, the meaning of timely is once in a blue moon! :)

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    1. Thanks, Jingles.
      I like to think of my freezer as an ecosystem. And as a keen conservationist...

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  2. I've always used 'timely' to mean appropriate in time, rather than punctual. "Your advice was timely," meaning it came at just the right time. I'm trying to think (and I have to really try to do that), but I don't think I've ever used it to mean 'on time'.

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    Replies
    1. I agree, Ed.
      I did say that timely meant 'at the right time' in the main body of the piece; but in the WTUPT section I used 'on time' to highlight the change from when it meant 'early'.
      I mean, I wasn't expecting anyone to go and start thinking...

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    2. Sorry! People sometimes do that on my posts too - most irritating.

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    3. You never know where you are, do you?

      When I first started this blog I used to lie awake at night worrying in case I'd said something outstandingly stupid.

      Now, once it's written, I'm philosophical about it: I don't give it another thought.*

      *NB Favourite philosophy joke.

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