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A Question of Time

Mark Fraunfelder of Boing Boing asks:

Let's say a meeting, originally scheduled for Wednesday, has been moved forward two days. What is the new day of the meeting?

Friday, of course. It took me a few minutes to even understand that another answer was possible. Alex Tabarrok was also confused by the idea that there was more than one possible reply. But he thought the answer was Monday.

Apparently, "if you think it's Friday, you imagine time as something you move through. If you think it's Monday, you think of time as something that passes by you." A recent study suggests that "Friday" people are angrier. I'm not that angry of a person, though. I just live in the fourth dimension.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 13, 2009; 7:31 AM ET
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I'm sort of shocked that anyone would pick Friday. Pushing a meeting back 2 days would be Friday. Pushing a meeting forward 2 days would be Monday.

Posted by: spotatl | August 13, 2009 8:19 AM | Report abuse

That meeting is definitely happening on Monday. If you miss it and wait until Friday, you will lose your job, and then you will lose your health care.

That would make you pretty angry, I bet.

Posted by: KathyF | August 13, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

I'm pretty certain that there is a fixed linguistic convention, which is why KathyF and spotatl interpret it in the same way.

Posted by: albamus | August 13, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

I think that anyone who thinks that "pusing a deadline forward 2 days" means that you have extra time to get something done has never worked a job in a corporate environment where there are actual deadlines. I just cannot fathom how anyone could think that pushing a deadline forward and pushing a deadline back would be synonymous.

Posted by: spotatl | August 13, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

This reminds me of a (possibly apocryphal) sign language anecdote I once heard. Supposedly, in American Sign Language, to indicate the future you gesture in front of yourself (see whereas in Indian Sign Language you gesture towards your back -- the idea being that the Indian conception of the future is of something that you haven't seen, and therefore is analogous to being behind your back rather than in front of your eyes.

Posted by: JonathanTE | August 13, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Um, so if I want the meeting, originally scheduled at 10am, to be moved 'forward' by 2 hours, that means we're meeting at 12noon?

Silly. Most people would understand 'forward' to mean 'earlier'.

Posted by: leoklein | August 13, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

So, spotatl, if you talk about how something will be true "going forward", do you mean that it's already true?

Posted by: rpy1 | August 13, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Do you move the completion date forward or back when you're on track to finish ahead of schedule? Forward.

Do you move the deadline forward or back when there's no way on God's green earth that you're going to meet it? Back.

The convention may not make sense, but it IS the convention.

The reason why the convention doesn't make sense, of course, is that no one would argue that we're traveling *forward* in time at the rate of one second per second. If we were able to hop into the "Back to the Future" DeLorean and find ourselves in 1955 along with Marty McFly, everyone would agree we'd be traveling BACK in time. (Digression: in BttF2, Marty traveled from 1985 to 2015 in the DeLorean. We're almost there, albeit via the slow boat. Where's my "Mr. Fusion"?)

So there you have it: the convention makes no sense, but it's the convention. Correct usage and logic are two separate domains.

Posted by: rt42 | August 13, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

I think people might be missing the point of this...

Posted by: Ezra Klein | August 13, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

About 25% of users think the 'page up' and 'page down' keys on the standard IBM keyboard are 'wrong' -- they think of the page being fixed, and the keys moving the frame -- or is it the other way round?

And in ancient Greek at least, 'opisō' meant both 'behind' and 'in the future'.

Posted by: davis_x_machina | August 13, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

This argument sounds like some silliness I might hear from George Lakoff.

Posted by: zosima | August 13, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Most people would understand that the meeting is on Monday--it has been moved "forward" closer to the people who are supposed to attend. The Friday people are angry because they keep missing meetings and don't understand why.

"Going forward" is one of those abominations that originated on Wall Street like "names" for "stocks" and "spaces" for "sectors" or "niches". It does mean "in the future" but "going" indicates we are moving toward the future rather than having the future come to us, as it were.

It is interesting that people see the world so differently.

Posted by: Mimikatz | August 13, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Obviously, the correct answer is Monday.

What I've never understood is the justification for the names "forward slash" and "back slash". Why do most people go backward when they make a "forward" slash and forward when they make a "back" slash? Are you supposed to move left to right or the other way? Are you supposed to move top to bottom or the other way? Is the forward slash supposed to look like someone standing and leaning forward? Are you going down a slide or up a staircase?

Posted by: mijnheer | August 13, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I guess this is why I always get confused over "spring forward" and "fall back".

Posted by: kevin51 | August 13, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Mimikatz: agreed on 'going forward' as an abomination. It just fits my way of thinking about time and is part of corporate-speak, so I thought it was relevant here.

Oh well -- I guess I took too many physics classes to understand the corporate mind...

Posted by: rpy1 | August 13, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Friday? Seriously? Do you also believe that moving a meeting "back" an hour would mean that it would come earlier than previously expected? Or do "back" and "forwards" mean the same direction to you?

I'm with the others here. The anger no doubt comes from confusion and frustration!

Posted by: davestickler | August 13, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I think most people who, like me, interpret it as Friday, live lives without very many meetings. "Forward" means forward in time to us, whereas in the business world, "up", "ahead" or "forward" are all opposites of the universal "back". It's nice to live in a world where you make your own deadlines, or at least, externally imposed ones are rarely changed by arbitrary powers. I doubt whether the anger difference has much to do with abstract conceptions of time, and instead just has to do with which sort of lifestyle you lead.

Posted by: Ulium | August 13, 2009 3:49 PM | Report abuse

What a hilarious comment thread! Yes, language can be confusing. As for this question, "forward" to me meant Friday, but I would have been lost if the phrase had been "moving up the meeting". I hear that often, and I never know if we're going backward or forward in time. I just wait for Outlook to tell me the new meeting time.

Posted by: qalice1 | August 13, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Journalists just don't seem to understand time the way mere mortals do. My favorite example comes from the United States Supreme Court Reporter's Guide to Applications "Frequently Asked Questions" section on page 15:

"Q: Does the Court have to act within certain time constraints when considering an application [for stay of execution]?

A: There is no law or rule requiring the Court to act by a time certain, but as a practical matter, an application by definition implies a deadline of some sort."

And remember, that's a question frequently asked by journalists covering the Court beat.

Posted by: rmgregory | August 13, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse

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