Wednesday 19 November 2008

What do you mean when you say?

One of my bug-bears with the French, or more with common French expressions, is the (mis)use of the words "next" and "last" in a temporal context.

That sounds confusing. Let me explain... In English, or at least British English, we use next and last as follows:

"There's a great film on TV next Friday"
Said on Saturday or Sunday, means Friday in six days' time
Said on any other day, means Friday the following week. If it's Monday and you want to say there's a great film on TV in four days, say "this Friday".

"There was a great film on TV on Friday"
Let's say Friday was the 1st day of the month. This statement works until Saturday the 9th tops. Thereafter, you have to swap "on" for "last".

When the French tell you there's a great film on TV next Friday, they will probably mean Friday this week. Seriously. Today is Wednesday. A French person could say "next Friday" today, and actually mean the day after tomorrow. Weird!

I could concede that, taking the meanings of "next" and "last" at their most pure, the French use is correct. But I'm not letting that get in the way of a good semantics argument.

I had the perfect opportunity to grouse about this linguistic stupidity this very morning. I caught the end of the weather forecast (read "vague guess") and the bimbo presenter (French weather bulletins not presented by actual real live meteorologists) announced that we'd be in for some jolly cold weather next weekend. Bloody amazing!, I thought. Météo France are frequently unable to accurately predict what the weather will be doing in 24 hours' time, and now here they are forecasting a whole ten days ahead! Stunning.


Any other expats out there want to let off steam about the linguistic idiosyncrasies of their host country?


Dickie said...

Idiots, aren't they? And just look at the kind of girl they marry. ;)

But what time of day do the Brits have "dinner"? Yorkshire's a funny place, that's all I need say.

Anonymous said...

I wish we got bimbo weather presenters...

Anonymous said...

I do like latinos, everything is "manana" for me :D

Anonymous said...

I've lived in the UK so long I can't remember the things that bug me. Oh, yeah, why does hospital not get a preposition, as in "we are going to hospital?" instead of "we are going to the hospital?"

Lis of the North said...

Hahah Dickie they time of day the Brits have dinner depends on where they live, of course ;)
Willie don't they have bimbo weather girls on five?
Zhu sometimes I think mañana is a very good plan :)
Good point Susanna! Now I'm racking my brains to think of any other generic places that don't get a preposition. Um... school?