This may surprise you, but some people think I am a terrible pedant. I utterly refute the accusation. I am an excellent pedant.
I’m proud of my addiction to getting things right. I care that a tomato is a fruit and shouldn’t be termed a vegetable. A banana is, botanically, a berry. And doesn’t grow on a tree. Woodlice are crustaceans, not insects. Elephants don’t have four knees.
I insist (although quietly, I’d hate to be ill-mannered) that “farther” refers to distance, while “further” is additional information. I don’t like the phrase “carol singing” because (usually) more than one carol is sung, which would make it “carols singing”.
Imagine my consternation, then, at dictionary definitions of the word “biweekly”.
It is listed as having two meanings. It can be something that happens every two weeks or that happens twice a week.
They can’t both be right. You’d have some people turning up for biweekly meetings on Mondays and Thursdays, others who attended biweekly meetings every 14 days.
Deciding which definition is correct has proved difficult. Even older dictionaries, which I usually trust, merely suggest that, for clarity, I might instead say fortnightly or twice-weekly meetings.
But persistently pernickety pedants like me don’t want alternatives, we want certainty.
I looked at other “bi” words. My 1933-edition Oxford English Dictionary says that bihourly, bidiurnaly, and bimonthly mean twice an hour, twice a night and twice a month. And then blithely adds that they can also mean every second hour, night or month.
There is a chink of light with bicentennial. Those of certain years will remember the 1976 American bicentennial, when 200 years of incorrectly using the spellings odor, color, and labor was celebrated.
Even better, the OED gives bicoloured as having two colours, bicavitary as having two cavities, and binodal as having two nodes. If bi means “having two”, then biweekly must mean having two weeks.
So a biweekly meeting takes place every two weeks. Hurrah. I congratulate myself on unravelling the problem and declare these dictionaries, with their double-meanings nonsense, must be wrong. What a cleverclogs I am.
Until I remember that, true to my pedantic principles, surely I must strictly agree with old-fashioned dictionary definitions? Just as the dictionary can’t have it both ways, I can’t have it both ways either. I can’t be a stickler for definitions if I disagree with some definitions.
Sometimes the English language is a pain in the neck.
Word of the week
An expert or connoisseur. EG: “That Finan bloke thinks he’s a maven, but he’s really just a pedantic old fool.”
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