Archives for posts with tag: Clarity

It’s really hard for native English speakers to agree on the correct definition of this week vs next week. Even family members confuse each other. How much harder must it be for non-native speakers, unless they’ve been taught an easier, simpler way?

Then there’s this weekend vs next weekend. If it’s Wednesday today, does this weekend or next weekend start in 2 days’ time? Tricky one. Sometimes we have to qualify ourselves by saying something like ‘this week coming’. Awkward. It interests me that something so basic and important is subject to such variance.

For me it’s a simple distinction, like the distinction between this and that, which governs how we explain the difference to those speakers of language who have no separate word (‘dieser’ being both this and that in German). I argued in that post that this is close in time and place, and that is less close in time and place. With me so far?

This week is the week we’re in right now, and I count my week from Monday to Sunday.

This weekend is the first weekend after today. If it’s a Saturday or Sunday, this weekend is the one I’m in, right now.

Next week is the week commencing Monday. If it’s a Sunday, next week starts tomorrow. If it’s a Monday, next week starts a week today because I’ve started this week. If it’s any other day than Monday, next week starts on Monday.

Next weekend is not this weekend, it’s the one after.

However, if you count your weeks from Sunday to Saturday, then all bets are off, because if it’s a Sunday then for you next week starts next Sunday, not tomorrow :-). Ha, I’m actually laughing out loud as I write this.

Should I have used a diagram? Do you agree with my definition? Do you care?


Clear language is so, so important, both in the written and spoken word. We have to make ourselves understood of course, so the easier we make it for our audience, the better it is for both parties.

I travel quite a bit on trains in the south of England. The train companies announce the service, the places where it calls, and for the busy commuters how many carriages there are. More carriages, more comfortable travel, at least in theory.

‘This train is formed of 8 carriages.’ Why oh why do they phrase it that way? They’re using the spoken word. When have you ever uttered ‘something is formed of 8 somethings’ in conversation? You would never say that. You would say ‘this train’s got 8 carriages.’

I’ve gone on about the unnecessary use of the passive voice before.  What’s wrong with saying ‘This train has 8 carriages?’

Clear language shouldn’t be difficult. It should be easy. We make it difficult, and in so doing make it difficult for everyone.

The London Underground is a beacon of clarity in visual communication. The tube map, using the supreme Gill Sans typeface beloved of regional British railways in the art deco years, is a masterpiece of design and possibly the easiest-to-comprehend legend for a major city’s underground system in the world.

It makes it easy to move around the capital as both a tourist and a newcomer. OK, so sometimes it’s faster to walk over ground after you’ve factored in the subterranean distances you might cover changing lines – especially to the Central Line which is not so much in the bowels of the city as the bottom of the toilet pan itself – but that doesn’t matter. You can plot your journey from A to B with ease.

Except when you get to B that is, and the voice on the speakers instructs you to change at the next stop for another line or ‘alight here’ for somewhere well known and adjacent.

Alight? What is that all about? Is something on fire at this stop? Why do we settle for a word so arcane that we might as well be dismounting from our trusty steed? What’s wrong with ‘exit here’ ‘or leave the train here’ for Madame Tussaud’s or some such place? I can’t think what percentage of tourists have ‘alight’ in the armoury of their second, third or fourth language, but it can’t be many. It creates confusion. I’m all for the Reithian principles of educating one’s audience by driving the language in 6th gear, but not when it comes to the binary process of ‘help me decide if I get off here or not’.

No, the audio dimension of the London Underground falls short of the visual aspect. B-minus, could do better.