Column: Timely lesson about time


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

If having kids has taught me anything, it’s that I’m never going to be on time for anything again in my life. At best, I’ll be 10 minutes late with at least one person crying and at least one person sporting an unidentified stain. But, if time is all relative, does it really matter? Unfortunately, yes. In our culture of scheduled meetings, being time savvy is important.

I often hear people wondering about “next Thursday.” When a corporate headhunter suggests you have an interview lunch at the steakhouse next Thursday, does she mean “Thursday a few days from now” or “Thursday next week?” Is there a correct way to refer to this? Obviously, if she would have said “this Thursday,” she would mean “Thursday a few days from now.” But “next” is a relative term; there’s no general agreement on “next Thursday.” When in doubt, be as specific as possible and try to avoid confusion.

What about a.m. and p.m.? Great question. Some would suggest a.m. stands for “after midnight” and p.m. stands for “post midday,” but that isn’t true. These abbreviations are Latin: a.m. is short for “ante meridiem” (before noon) and p.m. is short for “post meridiem” (after noon). Associated Press style suggests writing these abbreviations with lowercase letters and periods after each letter (e.g. 8 a.m.).

While we still have some time, let’s discuss noon and midnight. To avoid redundancy, don’t say “12:00 noon” or “12:00 midnight.” You can say “I left the bar around midnight,” but it would be redundant to say, “I left the bar around 12:00 midnight.”

Finally, we have to talk about time zones (because you’ll inevitably find yourself in one before too long). Most of Arizona doesn’t even observe Daylight Saving Time, so why do we need to bother with abbreviations like EDT and EST? EDT stands for Eastern Daylight Time (roughly spring and summer), and EST stands for Eastern Standard Time, which is approximately autumn and winter. Do we need to specify? Probably not, because it’s just confusing. Instead, I suggest using “ET” for Eastern Time, “CT” for Central Time and so on.

Now, I’m officially out of time, although there are plenty more timely topics we could continue to discuss. Let me know what grammar-related time troubles you experience.