Mighty Red Pen

October 27, 2006

Bimonthly vs bimonthly

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Word wars — mighty red pen @ 1:16 pm

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?

4 Comments »

  1. i think my favorite thing about this entry is how seriously you take my grammar conundrum while kindly sidestepping the fact that i don’t use capital letters ever.

    Comment by nikita — October 27, 2006 @ 1:22 pm | Reply

  2. also, prize? where my whole foods gold star cookies at?

    Comment by nikita — October 27, 2006 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

  3. I recall this same issue in regards to the e-mail bulletin. Ahhhh memories. Of course that was when it was Andy’s newsletter.

    Comment by The Mole — November 1, 2006 @ 6:30 pm | Reply

  4. And this is why I do not support dictionaries taking the descriptive approach to language. What’s the point of a dictionary if it is only going to reinforce the muddle that common usage has made of perfectly clear language?

    I’ll take Fowler’s crumudgeonly hatred of anything common — especially common usage.

    For that matter, since when does the MRP bow to the will of the masses?

    Comment by David — November 3, 2006 @ 3:38 pm | Reply


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