Years ago, a friend called and asked the husband and me to come to dinner “next” Saturday. Since Saturday was only a couple of days away, I assumed she meant a week from the coming Saturday.
On Saturday, the friend called and asked where we were.
I told her we were at home having dinner with friends.
She said we were supposed to be at their home having dinner with them.
Clearly, the vegetables weren’t the only thing steamed.
I apologized profusely, offered a wobbly defense about the confusion of the words “this” and “next,” and then apologized some more.
I’d like to say all was forgiven and forgotten, but there was never another next time.
To this day, when I hear the words “this” and “next” used in reference to a date, I still cringe. I also immediately ask for clarification. The last thing we would ever want is another mix-up. Or to miss a meal.
The Science of Us recently did a piece on the ambiguity of words in relation to time. They offered the example of receiving an email from a co-worker that says: “Next Wednesday’s meeting has been moved forward two days.”
So does that mean the meeting will be Monday or Friday?
The article said our answer to what day the meeting will be reveals our perspective on time — whether we perceive ourselves as moving through time (the meeting will be Friday) or we perceive time as moving toward us (the meeting will be Monday).
People are evenly divided on interpreting such things, which is why the person who composed the email should be reprimanded for not including the day and date and possibly even forced to conduct the meeting on both Monday and Friday.
Some of the hottest arguments are between people trying to straighten one another out on time — time zones in particular. One says a time zone is ahead and the other says, no, that time zone is behind. And, of course, nobody ever backs down.
You could put both parties on a plane, fly them to the time zone, have them deplane, see the same clock in the airport, and they’d still be arguing about whether they were behind or ahead.
If you really want to stir people up, don’t just ask them to come for dinner this Saturday or next Saturday, ask if they’d rather come for dinner or supper.
For a lot of people, the word “supper” means, well, absolutely nothing. But for people who grew up in more agricultural country, supper likely means the last meal of the day; dinner was the big meal at noon that gave people energy to get through afternoon work and chores.
As a child we lived in the city, but coming from parents who had grown up on farms, we ate supper in the evenings, while many of our neighbors were having dinner.
We can probably agree that today it is most common to invite someone to dinner. As for a date, why don’t we say the Saturday after next.
Oh wait, that won’t do. Can we push it back a week?
See you then.
Lori Borgman is an Indianapolis columnist. Send comments to dr-editorial@com.