"last October"

Doug Harris cats22 at STNY.RR.COM
Sat Dec 6 19:38:49 UTC 2008

It seems fairly obvious to me that "last October" refers to the most recent one, that being, in this case, October 2008.
Exception: If the author wrote in November, s/he might be expected to say "last month" when meaning the most-recent October. In _that_ situation, "last October" most certainly could be open to interpretation.

----- Original message ----------------------------------------
From: "Arnold Zwicky" <zwicky at STANFORD.EDU>
Received: 12/6/2008 2:20:07 PM
Subject: "last October"

>from a NYT editorial, "Rescue the Census", of 4 December:

>None of those senior managers have ever led a nationwide census, and
>two of them -- the deputy and the decennial director -- assumed their
>posts last October.


>ah, the old problem with "last X" (and "next X").  it's well-known
>that there is variation in the way people use and interpret these
>calendrical expressions.  in this particular case, in something
>written in early December, does "last October" refer to the most
>recent October (October 2008) or to the October of the preceding
>calendar year (October 2007)?  (the facts about usages are complex,
>and depend in part on the time elapsed between now and the time
>referred to.)

>i'm not encouraging people to report on the way they use "last" (vs.
>"this") in various situations; i know from experience that this will
>lead to some people disagreeing heatedly with one another while others
>become unsure of what they'd say.

>in this particular case, the intention of the writer could have been
>made clear by altering the wording ("assumed their posts in October"
>would refer to October 2008, while "assumed their posts in October
>2007" or "in October of last year" would convey the other meaning).
>but of course to re-word, the writer would have had to realize that
>there's a problem in interpretation here.

>i spent some time trying to figure out just when these people assumed
>their current posts at the Census Bureau -- a frustrating exercise.
>there is a staff list on the bureau's site, but it's from 11 August of
>this year (and anyway it doesn't say when people were appointed to
>their posts).  back in August, however, the bureau had an *acting*
>deputy director (Thomas Mesenbourg), so it's likely that the current
>deputy director was indeed appointed in October of this year.


>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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