Yesterday one of my colleagues circulated an email about a future event, specifying the time as “just before the lab meeting next Thursday”. It set off a whole bundle of confusion (does she mean “The next Thursday we will experience”, or “Thursday of next week”?) and got me thinking about this kind of reference to time.
There are quite a few ways to express a future day of the week: my own variant of English makes a strong distinction between “This Thursday” and “Next Thursday”. The former refers to the next Thursday that will be experienced, while “Next Thursday” is the Thursday that follows “This Thursday”. This is in addition to the simple “Thursday” which is essentially synonymous with “This Thursday”. “This” and “Next” when used with days don’t seem to work the same as “This” and “Next” in other contexts (I would use “This bus” only if it can be seen, otherwise “The next bus” to refer to the bus-equivalent of “This Thursday”), and there are additional constraints. For example, if today is Wednesday (which it is not), it doesn’t sound correct to say “This Thursday” when “Tomorrow” is a possibility (unless I have lost track of which day it is [sadly this is a fairly common occurrence]). So in this circumstance “This Thursday” has been replaced by “Tomorrow” while “Next Thursday” remains “Thursday of next week”. And it also gets awkward once Thursday of a particular week has passed; if today is Friday, “this Thursday” used in a future tense then means “Thursday of next week” (“this Thursday” may also be used in the past tense in order to mean “The previous Thursday”; fortunately English verbs allow this ambiguity to be avoided), but “next Thursday” is much more ambiguous (it could mean “Thursday of next week”, although I still typically use it to mean “the second Thursday in the future”. But the use of “next” for a day 13 days in the future may be a bit much). My distinction between “This” and “Next” does not depend on the boundary between weeks; I would still use “This Monday” to refer to the upcoming Monday even if today is Thursday (which it is not), and “Next Monday” to refer to the following one.
However, other English speakers do not typically use “This Thursday” as I do (I also occasionally use “This coming Thursday” or “This past Thursday”, but this kind of disambiguation is not really necessary). Hence the confusion arising from my cow-orker’s email (She meant “Next Thursday” in the sense in which I use it, but other colleagues misinterpreted it as meaning “This Thursday”). This may be because British English uses “next” differently, thanks to the “week” expression. UK “Thursday week” apparently has the same meaning as my “Next Thursday”, and UK “Next Thursday” has the same meaning as my “This Thursday” (one of OED’s definitions of “week” is “Seven days after the day specified”). Here’s an instance of someone who ran into the next/week problem (The blogger’s user info suggests that this is also a US/UK translation difference); and here is a discussion related to learning English as a second language. It’s unclear to me whether such expressions also apply for a day that has just passed (if today is Wednesday [which it is not], is “Tuesday week” six or 13 days in the future?). Or expressions like “Next Tuesday week” which just make my head spin.