Alert friend Nikita gets the prize for grammar conundrum of the week. She said the other day: “i almost emailed you in a panic yesterday evening because i couldn’t figure out if ‘bi-monthly’ meant ‘twice a month’ or ‘every two months,’ then i read that it actually means both.”
Don’t panic! I’m always available to help a friend in need, so as soon as I got this message, I quickly responded. To my way of thinking, bimonthly means every two months. In common usage, though, people often say bimonthly to mean twice a month.
I was puzzled about this issue of bimonthly meaning both twice a month and every two months. That sounds impossible. Nikita responded that she learned this from, “oxford freakin’ dictionary! i didn’t think that was true, but i also didn’t think oxford would lie to me. my sense of security and trust has been completely shattered.”
To top it all off, she then asked what “semi-monthly” means.
I was all set to challenge Oxford Freakin’ Dictionary to a duel, but I went to my back-up source and found out that, as I suspected, common usage is the problem here. More than 100 years of common usage.
So here’s the deal: yes, they can be used to mean the same thing. However, it would be better if you used “semi-monthly” to mean “twice a month.”
But I did walk away with this additional pearl of wisdom: “The chief difficulty is that many users of these words assume that others know exactly what they mean, and they do not bother to make their context clear.”
I find that applies in many, many contexts, don’t you?