"last October"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Dec 6 19:54:02 UTC 2008

At 2:38 PM -0500 12/6/08, Doug Harris wrote:
>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

"in October" might be more the likely choice to refer to Oct. 2008 in
either Nov. or Dec. 2008.  "last month" seems a bit informal or
imprecise in this context, although it certainly would be unambiguous.


>----- 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

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

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