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Lexical Leavings

by Tom Gally



English dictionaries don't do a very good job of explaining what "last" and "next" mean when referring to days of the week. Here are some typical explanations of "next":
Immediately following, as in time, order, or sequence: next week; the next item on the list. (American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed.)

the next event, day, time etc is the one that happens after the present one ... next Monday/July/year etc We're hoping to reopen the factory some time next year. (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English)

(used without the) ` Monday, week, summer, year, etc. the Monday, week, etc. immediately following: Next Thursday is 12 April. (Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary)

next Tuesday/week/year etc. (= the Tuesday, week, year, etc. that comes after this one) I'll see you next Friday. (Macmillan English Dictionary)
These entries imply that, if today is Monday, then "next Tuesday" refers to tomorrow, when in fact it means a week from tomorrow. And they don't explain that, on Monday, "next Friday" or "next Saturday" may be ambiguous.

The print edition of the Cambridge International Dictionary of English contains a chart of the relations between days under "calendar," but it uses Wednesday as the base day and thus sidesteps the ambiguity problem. The dictionary does note another ambiguity, though:
The expressions 'this Saturday', 'this Sunday' and 'this weekend' can mean either next or last Saturday and so on, depending on the situation. This can sometimes cause confusion.
Such confusions should be mentioned in more dictionaries.
(January 3, 2003)