Bewitched, Bewildered & Biweekly

Or, befuddled, bemused, and bimonthly.

Either way, I have a question. Who the heck came up with Webster's Dictionary?! (And don't be a smart aleck and tell me it was some guy named Webster!)

Well, whether or not it was some guy named Webster, or some guy named Oxford, or some guy named Encarta, I have to know what the heck he was thinking when he came up with the words "biweekly" and "bimonthly." The definitions make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and leave me scratching my head wondering when exactly I'll be receiving my next magazine subscription.

The word "biweekly" has two definitions: 1) occurring every two weeks, or 2) occurring twice a week. Huh?

Similarly, the term "bimonthly" means: 1) occurring every two months, or 2) occurring twice a month. Again, huh?

Does that mean that a "biweekly" newsletter is published every two weeks? Or is it published twice a week?

And does that mean that a "bimonthly" magazine comes out every other month? Or twice a month?

How do we know which is the case? Who determines which definition prevails? This is nuts! I can't believe no one has ever addressed this obvious word definition error ... an error that most definitely causes unsuspecting persons to sit around anxiously waiting for up to six weeks for a magazine to arrive! Or causes business people to miss meetings because they thought it was to take place next week or next month (instead of yesterday or two days ago), or next Tuesday, or a month from this Wednesday (instead of this past Tuesday or last Wednesday). It's all madness. Good God, this is no way to run the world!

What if Iranian representatives were scheduled to meet with a UN peace delegation biweekly to avoid a potential military solution in response to that country's plans to develop nuclear weapons. And what if the Iranians thought the meetings were to take place every two weeks while the UN delegation planned on twice a week. One can just imagine the scenario being played out:

UN Ambassador: "Mr. President, the Iranians did not show up for today's scheduled biweekly meeting."

US President: "That's the second time this week! I guess we have no alternative but to stick to our earlier threat and attack immediately!"

Strangely, "biweekly" definition #1 matches up pretty closely with "bimonthly" definition #2 - both roughly means "occurring every two weeks" (or "fortnightly" to British types). Yet, I don't think there was any forethought in that synchronic logic, for taken the other way -- "biweekly" definition #2 and "bimonthly" definition #1 are off by something like five and a half weeks. This is all insane! Something has to be done!

What would happen if other words behaved the same way? For instance, what if "last" really meant "first" - and you showed up at the landlord's door on the last day of the month with the rent check in hand only to find that you've been evicted for nonpayment of a bill that was actually due 31 days earlier.

Or what if "innocent" really meant "guilty," and you are on trial and are asked by the judge, "How do you plea?" I think you can see how befuddling things would quickly become (not to mention how bewildering!).

So, I'm in the process of putting together a petition to get this biweekly-bimonthly situation cleared up. First we have to decide on a firm definition for each. That's where you come in. I need you to vote on the following. Simply tick the box and mail this form to your representative in Congress:

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Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms Congressman/woman/person,

Please do something about the potentially dangerous biweekly/bimonthly confusion (which could result in a war with Iran if left to chance). Indicated below is my choice of definition.

Biweekly:  [  ]  occurring every two weeks    [  ]  occurring twice a week

Bimonthly:  [  ]  occurring every two months    [  ]  occurring twice a month.

Mail to: US Capitol, Washington DC, Attn: Word Definition Subcommittee

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Please cast your vote today. Together, we can wipe out confusing word definitions so that future generations might live in a world devoid of befuddlement and bewilderment.

Jack Sheedy

PS: And don't even get me started on biyearly!

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