Monday, 30 December 2013

The Next Thursday Conundrum

It seems like a dumb question as I type it but: what do you think I mean when I say something is going to happen ‘next Thursday’?

I’ve had this argument a few times in the past month. In fact, it’s occurred so often that I’m now sitting here writing this when I should be building a website.

My observation is that ‘next Thursday’ means the coming Thursday except if today happens to be a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Then ‘next Thursday’ actually means a week on Thursday. Today, as I write this, it’s Monday, hence the reason for this blog post. Somebody just told me that our bins will be emptied ‘next Thursday’ and I launched into a rant about how we’ll be swamped with rubbish by then. Of course, they meant this Thursday, which proves my point that on a Monday, ‘next Thursday’ can mean ‘this Thursday’ or ‘a week on Thursday’. There is an ambiguity in our language that it’s hard to explain to non-native speakers. It feels like we should put yellow tape around Mondays and erect a warning sign that there's ambiguity ahead.

Yesterday was Sunday so there was no ambiguity. ‘Next Thursday’ would have meant this coming Thursday. Today, however, it’s all up in the air. I have no idea what people mean when they say ‘next Thursday’. But I sense this is too boring a subject to blog about. I’ll try harder when I write my next blog post, probably next Thursday, whenever the hell that is...


  1. I once missed a playoff softball game over this confusion. On Monday, the manager emailed everyone saying that "the game is next Wednesday." I thought that meant in nine 9 days, because surely if it was in two days, he would have written "the game is Wednesday" or "the game is this Wednesday."

    On Thursday morning, I got his email asking what happened to me last night? "I was playing basketball, why?" I responded.

    I was never invited to play on that team again.

  2. Thank you, Tom. That's precisely the point I was making. This is a danger that has never been really addressed by world governments. Thankfully, today it's only softball matches affected but tomorrow it might be a real sport such as cricket or football affected by this ambiguity... ;)

  3. Yes. I should add that my team lost on that fateful Wednesday night. I often wonder what difference I could have made. Just how would my presence have changed the lives of those who participated?

    We'll never know. Not this Wednesday, not next Wednesday, and not the Wednesday after that.

  4. It's precisely what I'm saying. Because of an ambiguous phrase, you might have been playing in the big leagues, if softball has big leagues... To be honest, I don't know what softball is. You mean baseball, right? Or is softball another ambiguous phrase meaning something different?

  5. Sargasso Quadrilateral17 February 2014 at 06:40

    Thanks for the post. For your purposes, softball is materially equivalent to baseball. The ball is bigger, slower, and softer, hence the name. Not exactly plush, mind you, you still don't want it hitting you in the face. Softball is played primarily by women in competitive school athletics, and by pub leagues.

    Back on topic, I read another post talking about the expression "Thursday a week" to mean the Thursday of next week. I'd never heard that (born in US in 60s), so I wasn't sure if that expression was a)before my time, b)a UK or other regional expression, c)both, d)other. I hate "next Thursday" as I hate "x is y times smaller than" and omission of the so-called Oxford/serial comma!

  6. Ah, thank you for the comment, though this could turn into a rant. The Oxford comma is another of the reasons to hate the modern world and it's good to know that I'm not the only person who often thinks it's missing. Can't these people see that it just doesn't look right? From an aesthetic point of view, sentences need the comma.

    Back to the 'Thursday' point: it's amazing how few people take this problem seriously or think it's even a real problem. Since I spotted it in my life, I'm constantly pointing it our and checking if people mean this Thursday or the next Thursday. They look at me as if I'm slightly crazy. Of course, I am slightly crazy but that's beside the point.

    Softball sounds like what we call 'rounders' but I'm sure sure it is. There are probably rules to rounders but I can't recollect them, preferring cricket which has an extremely hard ball, which hit me numerous times on the head when I was a teenager, which probably accounts for both my passion for the Oxford comma and the issue I have with next Thursday.