Drag is waste. Reduce it.


Momentarily Confused

Here's an interesting one —

Both Dictionary.com and the Wiktionary offer two primary defintions for "momentarily". To quote from Dictionary.com:

1. For a moment or an instant.
2. In a moment; very soon.

To illustrate —

Example 1:

Person A: Blah blah blah...
Person B: I'm sorry, I was momentarily distracted by something completely unrelated; could you repeat that?

Example 2:

Impatient Customer: I've been waiting in this line for over 20 minutes!
Customer Service Representative: I apologize for the inconvenience; I'll be with you momentarily.

The interesting part? Both sources cite the second usage above, 'in a moment', as being controversial. The Wiktionary adds that anyone caught using momentarily in the second sense "may be subjected to correction in a formal or academic setting."

What's the big deal, you ask?

Well, there's nothing confusing or ambiguous about either of those examples — it's very clear from the context which definition was meant. Unfortunately, it's not always so simple.

The first usage is generally used to indicated that something happened 'for a moment' — past tense — whereas the second is generally used to indicated that something will happen 'in a moment' — future tense. But what happens when you want to say that something WILL happen FOR a moment? Complications arise:

Example 3:

Optometrist: I'm going to squirt some of this gunk into your eye momentarily; it will hurt.

Example 4:

Optometrist: I'm going to squirt some of this gunk into your eye; it will hurt momentarily.

So that's a little less clear. Is the squirting happening in a moment, or for a moment? Is it going to hurt for a moment, or in a moment? All of the above, perhaps?

Regardless of whether you or I think this is a big deal, though, the Authorities (Dictionary.com and the Wiktionary) are Not Happy.

Dictionary.com calls the second usage of 'momentarily' a "Usage Problem", and a Usage Note goes on to explain that 59% of the illustrious Usage Panel finds the second usage "unacceptable".

Honestly, unacceptable? That's strong language for something that, in their own words, "rarely leads to ambiguity". And this, coming from the same group that has turned a blind eye to the often-used-out-of-context, disaster-in-the-making that is bimonthly.

I do appreciate the mission and efforts of the Usage Panel, it's just that their priorities seem a bit out-of-wack. Let's quit wasting our time with formal votes on tid-bits like "momentarily" and do something meaningful, shall we? I'm pulling for an extensive advertising campaign — info-mercials, Super Bowl ads, and all the rest — promoting proper application of irony.

No comments:


  • Purpose: user-interface critique (ranting), among other things.
  • Justification: I use things; I have opinions; I have a blog.